City Council Campaign 2019

Citizens for Voter Education Candidate Forum 10/16/2019

Herald Candidate Statement 2019

Community engagement is essential to a thriving Portsmouth. Through years of public service and City Council experience, I have worked hard to solve problems and maximize benefits for the residents of Portsmouth. On November 5, I ask for your vote so I may continue providing positive and constructive leadership to forge the best path forward for Portsmouth.

My roots are in fighting for residents to be heard and that neighborhoods in all five wards share in the City’s Capital Investment projects. In this last City Council term, we made progress on many initiatives but these are high priorities I will keep fighting for:

  • Relieving taxpayer burden for residents – At budget time I have scrutinized for cost savings and held departments accountable for reducing waste. I helped lead pursuit of a $2/night hotel fee where visitors would help pay for infrastructure and offset residential property tax. I cooperated with other towns and cities, testified in Concord and helped get the NH State House to pass enabling legislation. While it did not yet pass the Senate, I will keep fighting to allow municipalities like Portsmouth to have the opportunity to help their residents. During this term we also rolled out the Resident Parking Discount, which shifts parking costs to visitors. Along with smart growth that can add property tax base in ways that do not impinge on our great cultural history, I will stay focused on reducing residential tax burden wherever possible.
  • PFAS and healthy water – Careful monitoring and smart planning are needed to maintain healthy water free from PFAS, and I remain rigorously involved on numerous fronts. I serve on the Pease Community Advisory Panel and demanded health monitoring for Portsmouth Firefighters. Regarding Coakley Landfill, I pushed hard for open and transparent information and helped lead the first regional community forum for those impacted.
  • Affordable housing -- I am steadfast in supporting affordable housing through innovation and incentives as with the Portsmouth Housing Authority Court St. project and forward-thinking developments in our gateways.
  • Opioid Crisis -- This year, I spearheaded creation of the Portsmouth Community Coordinated Response to the Opioid Crisis. We are cooperating through every sector of the local, regional and state community to more effectively take on a devastating problem. We are making meaningful progress but have so much work ahead of us.

There are many other issues of importance for the future of Portsmouth: Climate Change, the pace and degree of development, getting the most out of the McIntyre, transition to a new City Manager. I am engaged and ready to cooperate at every step.

I would be honored to continue serving the people of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Herald Candidate Survey

The Portsmouth Herald sent twelve questions to all candidates in the 2019 City Council election. Below are a few of the responses that Cliff submitted. For the complete survey response, view Cliff's candidate profile.

Portsmouth Herald: Why are you running for City Council?

Cliff: I am running to serve the community that means everything to me and my family. By serving on the City Council I hope to build on years of public service experience where I have worked hard to solve problems and maximize benefits for the residents of Portsmouth.

Community engagement is essential to a thriving Portsmouth. My roots are in fighting for residents to be heard and that neighborhoods in all five wards share in the City’s Capital Investment projects. I believe in public input and rigorous consideration of the impact of our decisions. Equally as important is the manner in which we cooperate to get there. Whether on issues like relieving residential tax burden, PFAS and Healthy Water, the McIntyre, or cooperating to better solve the Opioid Crisis, I engage with residents and stakeholders to consider all sides. I actively seek out differing opinions, and I listen to people.

I want to provide positive and constructive leadership to forge a path forward that benefits all of us. I would be honored to continue serving the people of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Herald: The city will have its first new city manager in 2020 since John Bohenko arrived in 1997. What challenges and opportunities does this present and what is the proper balance between the roles of city staff and the elected council?

Cliff: In interviewing City Manager candidates, I looked for a number of key characteristics: experience as a leader in the public sector, a commitment to active engagement and accessible communication, and a comfort with interacting at the regional, state and even federal levels. Karen Conard scores highly on every one of those requirements and has the opportunity to continue what is working well while bringing a fresh perspective on how we take on challenges in the future.

The City Manager plays an important role in being in charge of the operations and fiscal health of our City government. Any transition after 20+ years will present challenges, though with a very capable City staff and department leadership, day-to-day activities should continue with little interruption. It is also essential for the City Manager to provide options and recommendations to the City Council on important policy decisions.

In the bigger picture, with a City Council whose members are refreshed every two years, the City Manager provides a continuity of leadership in carrying out the community’s vision and effectively tackling priorities for the longer term. Portsmouth has an opportunity to be a significant leader at a regional level for issues that will be more effectively addressed through cooperation. Whether with affordable housing, access to healthy water, addressing needs of a rapidly aging population, or coordinating to get ahead of the opioid crisis, Portsmouth can be a leader in being smart with our time and resources to achieve results that benefit all of us.

Portsmouth Herald: Is the city doing everything it can to protect city residents as well as those in neighboring communities from PFAS and other groundwater contamination?

Cliff: PFAS and healthy water supply are of the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth and communities everywhere. In this recent Council term, one of my top priorities was paying close attention to scientific and regulatory trends, demanding open access to quality information, and taking forward-thinking measures about PFAS and water safety.

At Pease where we are on the frontline cleaning up wells contaminated by the Air Force and providing needed health consultation to those exposed, I have served on the Pease Community Assistance Panel (CAP) to make sure resident, employee and City concerns are represented. With our municipal water supply, we must remain vigilant with aggressive monitoring that contamination levels be below those the best science tells us are safe. I supported the stronger health advisory levels adopted by NH DES this year. I am happy to see the City Water Department be out in front in maintaining that our water contamination levels remain well below those legal limits.

With the Coakley Landfill, the City is responsible to monitor that contamination impact is contained and safe, and plan for potential added taxpayer costs in helping provide access to healthy water to drink and for wildlife. During this Council term, I led calls for greater transparency and openness of information, including spearheading a multi-town community forum about Coakley.

If elected this term, I would work to embrace vital input from community members who are accomplished on this subject like activist Andrea Amico and consider establishing a Portsmouth-based Safe Water Advisory Group. Candidate Survey sent a questionnaire to all 21 candidates. Some responses are listed below, the full survey results are here. Name one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities Portsmouth will face in the next 10 to 20 years.

Cliff: PFAS and challenges of healthy water supply are among the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth and communities everywhere. At Pease, where we are on the frontline cleaning up wells contaminated by the Air Force and providing needed health consultation to those exposed, I have served on the Pease Community Assistance Panel (CAP) to make sure our residents, employees, and city concerns are represented. With our municipal water supply, we must remain vigilant with our aggressive monitoring that contamination levels be below those that the best science tells us are safe. And, with the Coakley Landfill, the city is responsible to monitor that contamination impact is contained and consider there may be added taxpayer costs ahead of us in helping provide access to healthy water to drink and for wildlife. During this council term, I led calls for greater transparency and openness of information, including spearheading a multi-town community forum.

Portsmouth has an opportunity to be a significant leader at a regional level to address so many issues that need that level of cooperation to effectively solve them. Whether with affordable housing, providing access to healthy water, addressing needs of a rapidly aging population, or coordinating to get ahead of the opioid crisis, Portsmouth can be a leader in being smart with our time and resources to achieve results that benefit all of us. As we have in gaining support for a local hotel fee to relieve property tax burden that all municipalities share, we can build stronger regional support to take on issues that will not go away without that cooperation. Are there specific areas in the city budget where you think spending cuts can be made? Are there specific areas where you think spending should be increased?

Cliff: Spending and efficiency should always be scrutinized and as a councilor I have held the city manager and department heads accountable to eliminate budgetary waste. I have seen little evidence of substantial budgetary waste, nor have I heard citizens or other city councilors identify cuts that would qualify as cutting “fat” as opposed to muscle or bone. Primarily, what I believe the people of Portsmouth have asked for is maintaining of the quality of services our city has provided. And though, in fact, in some cases the public has demanded more project investment or services, I think changes need to be gradual and in context of keeping taxpayer impact as near inflation as possible.

Because of continuing increasing costs of most everything — benefits, cost of living for employees, cost of materials and services for capital projects, costs of energy, costs of maintaining good infrastructure for water, sewer, roads, etc. — to not build in expectation of some regular increases would otherwise mean cuts in services, capital projects, and/or personnel.

Of important emphasis as far as direct impact to residents year-to-year is to have the resulting tax rate increase not be more than the rate of inflation. Revenues are also a critical part of any budget, and keeping that tax rate increase from increasing more than inflation was an important milestone in our current budget. The City Council cannot directly control property values, though we as a city can seek revenue sources as well as find smart growth opportunities to increase the property tax base through residential and commercial development. In this past term, I fought hard to pursue enabling legislation at the state level to allow municipalities the option of enacting a $2/night hotel fee paid by visitors that would offset the impact of tourism on our residents and infrastructure. Through testimony in Concord and diplomacy with other towns and cities, the legislation was passed in the House, though it did not get through the Senate. I hope to build on that momentum and continue fighting for sensible ways to increase revenues and offset burden on taxpayers. Do you feel that development in Portsmouth — particularly of luxury condos, hotels, and other large-scale buildings — should be curtailed?

Cliff: The pace of growth is always worth careful consideration, and our city planning needs to consider periodic comprehensive review of zoning such as has been done fairly recently. In order to work toward housing affordability, residential higher-density development, where suitable, is needed. Otherwise, continued high demand will cause existing supply to continue to rise in cost. However, careful consideration must be taken about balance with our neighborhoods and cultural resources. In being innovative about zoning such as with the Gateway Districts, density can be used to incentivize developers to build affordable housing units that otherwise have not emerged through private development.

While I do have high respect for rights of property owners and the well thought-out and deliberate process of zoning, it would be good to see residential and commercial growth outside of hotels and luxury condos. There are benefits of development in increasing the property tax base, which can relieve burden on other taxpayers. In the past few years, the city of Portsmouth endured a significant loss in commercial property tax revenue when the Schiller station was deregulated and sold at auction. Without recent developments that added to the property tax base, residential taxpayers would have had much more burden. What can be done to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination and other chemical contaminants on the Seacoast?

Cliff: PFAS is referred to as an “emerging contaminant” not because its presence is necessarily new, but because the science about how to measure it and its impact on health and environment is relatively recent. Initial signs are very troubling that the presence of PFAS is widespread and due to many sources and therefore presents major challenges in both “cleaning it up” and preventing more contamination. The city of Portsmouth needs to remain vigilant about monitoring all of its water supplies in compliance with the best science and health standards for safety. We need to be proactive in looking at vetted science and health standards set by other states and communities, and embrace grassroots efforts championed by activists like Portsmouth resident and Testing for Pease leader Andrea Amico.

At locations like Pease, as the primary source of contamination was Air Force firefighting foam, steps are being taken to filter out the PFAS from wells through new water filtering technologies, with the goal of eventually having cleaned water. This is good progress, and fortunately for local residents, these steps are paid for by the Air Force, not local taxpayers. At Coakley Landfill, the issue of removing contamination is more challenging as the waste stored in the landfill is the source of contamination and therefore simply “pump and treat” of wells will provide short-term fixes for clean water but not really remove the source of contamination. Where would you remove the waste to? And at what cost and effort compared to reinforcing efforts to cap and contain the waste and limit its ability to contaminate? In conjunction with that containment, it is critical to be vigilant about testing and monitoring of wells, water supplies, and surface water. Communities will need to cooperate to find effective means of access to healthy water — perhaps extending municipal water sources that are otherwise monitored for safety. Also, for other notable sources of PFAS — i.e. car washes, use of equipment (like firefighting) that is known to contain PFAS — different, less contaminated materials need to be used. Finally, as many of these efforts will prove enormously expensive, we need to continue cooperation at the regional, state, and federal levels to pursue funding sources, including legal action that may be taken against polluters. Regarding the McIntyre redevelopment project: Do you support the Redgate/Kane plan?

Cliff: Yes. The Redgate-Kane project can be fantastic, and we all will have opportunities to continue to shape it to be. It may not be everyone’s everything, but it has many positives that speak to the key community goals expressed in the RFP. However, of its most important attributes, it has strong promise to enable a successful NPS application so Portsmouth can finally acquire the McIntyre property. Despite claims by some that the “McIntyre site belongs to the people of Portsmouth,” the fact is we have tried numerous paths, yet it has remained owned by the GSA. Rather than continuing the 14-year shutout, a key part of my decision as councilor was to “put some points on the board” and deliver the McIntyre to the people of Portsmouth.

Moving ahead with Redgate-Kane gives us the most direct path to a renovated McIntyre site with significant public benefit, requiring minimal taxpayer investment while returning significant revenue to offset taxpayer burden. Do you think the Council should step back and consider other plans, such as the one put forth by Bill Binnie?

Cliff: No. An open and transparent public process available to any developer was already undertaken, initiated by the previous City Council in 2017. The current Council, as elected, was charged with openly and fairly carrying out that process, which continued through 2019.

Our community and city government have invested significant effort to see through a process that strived, imperfectly or otherwise, for transparency and inclusivity. Many of the steps and decisions along the way were challenging and at times even messy. Ultimately, it was fair and reflective of a public, democratic process, and like public projects can be, not always harmonious.

Bill Binnie’s proposal was intriguing in what it offered and difficult because of its 11th-hour nature. Mr. Binnie had chances, like other development groups, to submit a proposal earlier in the process. As it stood this summer, the city was bound to complete the RFP process. Either move ahead with a development agreement with Redgate-Kane, or turn them down and start a new process open to Mr. Binnie and any other developers.

In the many months since Redgate-Kane was selected as partner in the RFP process, they have invested significant time and resources to build a successful project in cooperation with our community. There was no allowance in the process to add a late-game alternative where one developer was invited to use a special set of rules. Besides being a negative impact to our city and its reputation as a good-faith partner, our legal counsel warned that seeking such an unusual path would risk liability for legal action from Redgate-Kane. I felt it would be irresponsible in my duty as a city councilor to put Portsmouth in that position.

City Council Campaign 2017

Candidate Forum

On Oct. 18, Cliff took part in the Candidate Forum hosted by Citizens for Voter Education at Portsmouth City Hall. His remarks and responses to audience questions can be seen here:

  Cliff Lazenby @ Candidate Forum Candidate Survey sent a questionnaire to all 18 candidates. Some questions were suggested by readers, others were generated by the PortsmouthNH team.

  Cliff Lazenby's Candidate Survey

Q & A with the Portsmouth Herald

The Portsmouth Herald sent the following ten questions to all candidates in the 2017 City Council election. Below are the responses that Cliff submitted, included in this candidate profile.

Portsmouth Herald: Given the outcry from many city residents about their revaluations and property taxes, do you think next year’s fiscal budget should be cut, why or why not. If you do, where specifically should those cuts come from?

Cliff: Every year the budget needs scrutiny and should include only items that are necessary and justified. We should always look for ways to eliminate redundant or wasteful expenses while not negatively impacting essential safety and emergency services, infrastructure and quality of schools.

The active response to property valuations brings up a healthy reminder about how citizen engagement can result in a budget that is less wasteful and ultimately best reflects citizen priorities for spending. Engage in the budget process! Read the documents, attend hearings, communicate with those making the budget.

We should also fight for a ‘Homestead Exemption’ for longtime residents and doggedly pursue changes at the State level that would retain more of the Rooms/Meals tax that our businesses collect. Regarding valuations, the City needs to improve how and when they communicate the important details.

Portsmouth Herald: Do you support efforts to create or promote more affordable and work-force housing in the city and if yes what specific steps would you call for to create this type of housing?

Cliff: Housing affordability is a major problem that we face -- for workforce of any age, for older residents with limited income who want to remain, for younger residents starting out. Businesses wanting to grow in or locate to Portsmouth are already looking elsewhere because employees cannot afford to live here.

We should carefully pursue density incentives to encourage development that results in better diversity of housing stock. I support the recently proposed zoning changes to provide ‘Gateway Districts’ that allow increased density in currently under-utilized commercial zones like the Kmart Plaza or Frank Jones Center. Density bonuses in a development like Chinburg at Brewery Lane can provide real potential for affordable rents.

Our options are limited, however, and the success of the density-incentive approach is unsure at best. If we are serious about pursuing diverse housing affordability, we may also need to investigate expansion of inventory through the Portsmouth Housing Authority.

Portsmouth Herald: With work underway on the city’s new parking garage, do you think the city should begin looking for a location for a third garage, or do you think the city should consider other alternatives like increased shuttle services?

Cliff: First of all, we need to address how our current parking policies impact residents and neighborhoods. We should consider an updated Resident Parking Discount program. While limited parking supply exists, raising parking fees and increasing hours is the most effective way to provide inventory turnover so that customers can find spots available. This approach as well as the Foundry Place garage will be a great help to businesses. A discount program allows residents to share in that benefit, while visitors happy to find a spot can bear more of the burden.

As the Foundry Place garage is completed we should also consider Neighborhood Parking programs for neighborhoods near downtown. And we should certainly leverage public transportation options like shuttles whenever possible.

Portsmouth Herald: The City Council recently voted to approve a change in how it interacts with the public. Instead of holding a public comment session at every meeting, it will now alternate public comment sessions with public dialogues. Do you support those changes?

Cliff: The more that citizens engage with community and government leaders, the better our institutions can represent the will of the people. The recent changes to add public dialogue are a positive step to add constructive participation from residents. If citizens prefer less-involved input methods like letters, email or simple public comment, those remain as well.

Beginning in 2016, I proposed that the Citywide Neighborhood Committee introduce ‘Neighborhood Outreach Forums’ in each of the five Portsmouth Wards. These forums have provided opportunities for residents to meet with leaders like the Mayor, City Manager, Fire & Police Chiefs and Public Works Director and discuss their needs in more detail.

While there is always room for improvement, a key reason the forums have been successful is because of dialogue. Residents can have productive conversations in a setting less intimidating than the podium at City Hall, while government leaders gain valuable insight into resident priorities.

Portsmouth Herald: Are you concerned that Portsmouth’s city government caters too much to tourists and downtown businesses and not enough to the neighborhoods outside of the downtown?

Cliff: The Portsmouth government has put significant emphasis on capital improvements related to neighborhoods and businesses closer to downtown. In recent years City Staff have taken measures to improve investment balance across all wards of Portsmouth.

In 2015 on the Neighborhood Committee, I analyzed 15 years of CIPs and found that more than 90% of funds for neighborhood improvements were invested in the three downtown wards (1, 2, 5). Year after year, projects in the outer wards (3, 4) were not given CIP priority. Since then, City staff have added CIP features to give visibility to geographical distribution. Soon, a project like sidewalks on Peverly Hill Road, which straddles wards 3 and 4, will be undertaken.

In the last eight years, Portsmouth has had only one City Councilor elected from outside of the downtown wards. As a resident of Ward 4, I would bring valuable perspective from outside of downtown.

Portsmouth Herald: Do you support the city’s decision to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant at Peirce Island? Why or why not?

Cliff: Yes, Portsmouth was overdue to discontinue pollution of the Piscataqua River and avoid major financial penalties for failing to act. While nobody ‘likes’ housing a wastewater treatment plant at Peirce Island, City leaders and residents had spent years publically researching alternative locations, and determined there were no other viable options.

As it stands, a number of surrounding neighborhoods are making a significant sacrifice during this upgrade project. Our city needs to be mindful of minimizing impact wherever possible.

I do think that looking back at the Wastewater Project process offers opportunity to identify improvements in terms of citizen engagement. While our government did offer numerous public p>arings, with a project of this magnitude they should have invited more meaningful citizen participation throughout. Likewise, residents and community leaders need to be accountable to mobilize early, often and constructively. We could have avoided late-stage acrimony and unnecessary legal costs.

Portsmouth Herald: Do you think the city has a moral responsibility to pay for at least 50 percent of the cost to run municipal water to homes located around the Coakley landfill in Greenland and North Hampton?

Cliff: The City of Portsmouth has a responsibility to engage in an open and rigorous pursuit of the truth about water contamination near the Coakley landfill. In its role on the Coakley Landfill Group, Portsmouth needs to help surrounding communities understand the extent of the contamination levels and to pursue updated scientific methods for mitigating risks. With the longer-term trends showing further spread of contamination and raising serious questions about cancer and other related health effects, Portsmouth should push forward that the CLG take substantial steps to protect residents. The CLG should be publically forthright with impacted communities, and the City of Portsmouth should be transparent with its own taxpayers about not only moral responsibility but significant legal and financial risk.

Portsmouth Herald: Do the most recent changes to zoning in the downtown create a proper guide for future developments or are more changes necessary?

Cliff: Our current zoning guidelines comprise input from years of careful examination and deliberation by members of the Portsmouth community. Like any set of master guidelines, our Zoning Ordinance is a living, breathing document. It contains relevant guidance for the near future not only for downtown but for all of Portsmouth. As the world around us evolves we must be vigilant to update zoning to best reflect the will of the community. A proper guide should continue to review best practices for ecologically sound development and smart, thoughtful growth. Respect should be given to private property rights while including reasonable restriction to allow for public safety while maintaining the historic and cultural strengths of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Herald: Past City Councils have each given City Manager John Bohenko positive reviews of his job performance. Do you agree that the city manager is doing a good job?

Cliff: John Bohenko has worked hard for the City of Portsmouth and continually overseen strong fiscal health. Residents benefit from having the second-highest commercial tax base of any municipality in New Hampshire, and the City regularly has access to low-cost financing for capital projects.

Mr. Bohenko works effectively with the City Council and staff to plan for projects and quickly respond to issues that arise. There have been times in the past where he could have been more engaged with citizen and neighborhood groups, particularly with those outside of downtown.

However, on numerous occasions I have seen him make efforts to factor in constructive input to improve the work of the City. After my 2015 study of distribution of Capital Improvements across City Wards, he instituted improvements to the CIP process that help residents and neighborhoods. He has also participated in the Neighborhood Forums to engage on resident issues.

Portsmouth Herald: Do you think the City Council should instruct City Manager John Bohenko to reach a deal with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to limit the number of nights it can hold concerts or plays at the park?

Cliff: We should continue to carefully monitor the impact of the PPAF on neighborhoods nearby Prescott Park. Efforts this past season to monitor and enforce sound limits are helpful and should continue.

Based on detailed analysis and recommendations from the 2017 Prescott Park Master Plan process, I do not see justification for reducing programming nights of the Arts Festival. A Blue Ribbon Committee spent more than a year gathering input from residents and leaders in the community. The resulting Prescott Park Master Plan contained many thoughtful and specific recommendations related to Prescott Park. It did not recommend reducing programming nights for the PPAF.

The Master Plan process is a valuable and balanced method for gathering and reporting the will of the community. With the 2017 Prescott Park Master Plan, the City Manager has been given clear and valuable direction on many helpful priorities.