November elections are just around the corner and there are nine candidates vying for Wilmington City Council seats. encore reached out to each candidate to learn more about their reasons for running and their stance on local issues from short-term rentals and economic development, to public health and environmental preservation.
Meet Caylan McKay, candidate for Wilmington City Council.
encore (e): If you could give Wilmington City Council a letter grade for performance, what would it be and why?
Caylan McKay (CM): A-
Our council has done a great job, but Wilmington needs fresh eyes and new perspectives if we’re to meet the needs of a booming population. We’re about to undergo major changes, and that requires proactive innovation, paired with the ability and desire to engage with and listen to our citizens. In my professional career, I specialize in individual and business tax accounting, helping families and small businesses grow and achieve success. I can’t do my job effectively without hearing their struggles—and finding innovative solutions that fit their specific needs. And that’s the approach I’ll bring to council.
e: Why run for Wilmington City Council now?
CM: I’m running for Wilmington City Council because I’ve seen what Wilmington was, I see what it is, and I see what it can be. I believe in smart, urban development, which means revitalizing our city center and redeveloping our post-industrial areas—instead of creating suburban sprawl and paving over what little is left of our green spaces. I believe we need to be proactive, not reactive.
We’re about to grow exponentially, and if we don’t address the problems we now have, they’re going to keep growing too. Traffic. Over-development and the loss of green spaces. Water quality. Affordable housing. Gentrification. The opioid crisis. High-paying jobs.
The problems Wilmington faces aren’t unique. But our solutions should be.
In my professional career as an accountant, each of my clients face different challenges, with different goals. I work with them to create a plan that doesn’t just suit them in the now, but five years down the line, ten, twenty, all the way to retirement. And in order to put together the plan that works best for them, I have to listen and think outside of the box, get creative. I’m here to listen you, to the experts who are underutilized, and to create a pathway forward. And that’s why I’m running for Wilmington City Council.
e: What issues are most important to you and why?
CM: My primary concern is development. And that’s because it’s truly at the core of most of Wilmington’s problems. If we decrease suburban sprawl and revitalize our city’s center, we decrease traffic. Our city becomes more attractive to outside businesses and tourists. We preserve our green spaces. If we push for required inclusionary zoning and other incentives for developers, we increase the stock of affordable housing—homes and apartments where our teachers, police officers, firefighters, and service workers can afford to live and don’t have to pinch pennies to just get by.
Traffic and parking is another large concern for me. Traffic projects take 10-20 years to complete, so if we’re going to invest in new infrastructure, we ought to be considering the future that infrastructure will serve. In the last few years, we’ve seen how Uber and Lyft has revolutionized the way we travel and decreased the need for personal vehicles, and that shared economy is only going to grow. But the main mitigator for traffic is a better public transportation system. Our citizens want better bus systems, more bike routes—not high speed traffic through neighborhoods designed to be residential. When our parking decks sit empty 70% of the time, do we really need more of them, or do we need to be creating Park & Rides and bettering WAVE Transit?
And all of the above relates to my third concern: our natural environment. Over-development paves over our natural beauty, the quality that sets Wilmington apart from other Southern cities. If we don’t recognize the value of our trees, parks, and green spaces, we do not create a sustainable future for our city. We’ve seen what happens when we ignore something as essential as the quality of our water. I will strive for better, and I’m proud to say that I have been officially endorsed by the Sierra Club.
e: What is your position on short-term rentals and B&Bs in historic downtown Wilmington?
CM: Short-term rentals certainly have a role to play in Wilmington’s booming tourism and hospitality sector. However, we have to balance property rights and livability issues. I believe in sensible, well-researched, and statistics-driven regulations that benefit the entire community. Last year, Charleston, South Carolina, created a Short-Term Rental Task Force, composed of citizens directly affected by STRs, to study the effects of short-term rentals and propose solutions. I’d like to implement a similar advisory board here in Wilmington. Our city and staff have looked into this issue, but it’s time to empower our citizens to create change.
e: What about public transit, such as better bus systems, trains and/or addition of bike lanes across ILM?
CM: As part of this campaign, I went for a week without my car. Because ultimately, I want to live in a city where that wouldn’t be a struggle. But, of course, it was. For Wilmington to attract high-paying employers, we have to do better. We have to look towards new technologies and strategies other cities have successfully employed. Former councilmember Laura Padgett is one of my heroes because of her forward-thinking approach to transportation projects, including her support of the CSX rail relocation project. I would like to continue her legacy on the council and be a champion of innovative transportation infrastructure.
e: Per GenX, how is Wilmington City Council excelling in leadership throughout this ongoing crisis and how are they lacking?
CM: GenX and the other water contaminants from industries upstream have affected our citizens’ health for decades. And with their discovery, they have also negatively affected our city’s growth and business development. No matter how nice our beaches and weather may be, employers do not want to move somewhere with environmental health risks. The CFPUA Board, which includes two city council members, passed a resolution calling on the state to protect against contaminants, but voted down an amendment that would have called on the legislature to adequately fund state agencies. I commend Kevin O’Grady for proposing the amendment, and I was upset to hear that Charlie Rivenbark had voted against it—essentially, against his constituency. The CFPUA Board and our local representatives need to send and deliver a stronger message to Raleigh.
e: If elected, what actions would you take or pursue to help our community move forward from this issue?
CM: Unfortunately, the city does not have the power to regulate polluting industries upstream—that’s just a fact. All of our local representatives, with the exception of Deb Butler, let us down by passing House Bill 56, which is a band-aid for a broken arm. We need state oversight and a well-funded DEQ, not local funding for CFPUA. In the 2018 elections, we have to hold these leaders accountable. We have to support candidates that will protect our environment and support the scientists dedicated to that task. And on a local level, we have to continue this discussion, bring our citizens into the fold, and raise our united voices until we are heard in Raleigh. No matter how long it takes.
e: Oil exploration continues to be pushed by some state leaders—where do you stand on this issue and what is Wilmington City Council’s role in protecting our community’s most vital environmental and economic resource?
CM: I do not support opening the Mid-Atlantic Ocean region to seismic air-gun testing for the exploration of offshore oil and gas. The coasts of North Carolina are a crucial breeding ground and migratory route for many species, and seismic testing is proven to harm marine mammals in a variety of ways, including avoidance of areas, stress, and permanent hearing loss. Since sound is their main form of communication and understanding the world around them, this would be devastating. Not only that, but the avoidance of blast areas can result in a loss of prey. Beyond what this would do to the animals themselves, seismic testing could harm commercial fisheries by drastically decreasing catch rates. So there’s an economic impact as well.
And further, I don’t support oil and gas exploration because even if those resources were to be found in plentiful supply off of our coasts, Wilmington has everything to lose and nothing to gain with offshore drilling. One oil spill, and that would ruin our entire economy, an economy predominantly driven by tourism and hospitality. And we now know that, even if a large spill isn’t reported, there are all too many “small” oil spills happening all the time in the Gulf of Mexico. Let’s be clear: There are no small spills. Every spill kills fish, which are vital to our thriving fishing industry. Every spill soils our coastal waters and beaches, which are crucial for our tourism industry. Every spill attracts dirty industries and drives away clean jobs in tech, research, and development. North Carolina is uniquely situated to be a leader in solar and offshore wind energy, and we ought to be investing in these renewable energy options—not only because it’s the environmentally responsible thing to do, but it would also benefit southeastern North Carolina’s economy. We need to be taking steps forward, not back.
e: Are there community nonprofits, groups or other organizations Wilmington City Council could or should be working with in order to tackle some of the major issues our city faces today (opioid epidemic, GenX, clean air/water, etc.)? If so, who and why?
CM: I am so incredibly thankful for Wilmington’s nonprofit community. There are so many organizations doing important work in Wilmington, but I’ll try to limit my response to three.
Wilmington’s downtown is in the middle of many revival and restoration projects. Which, in many ways, is wonderful—the preservation of historic buildings preserves Wilmington’s identity and charm. However, it has led to gentrification, and this problem will only get worse if we don’t address it now. The Cape Fear Housing Coalition has been at the forefront of addressing this issue, and they bring together so many nonprofits doing work to increase affordable housing opportunities. But to highlight one in particular, the Cape Fear Community Land Trust preserves affordable housing in communities—permanently. Since they own the ground in perpetuity, even if a neighborhood becomes gentrified, their properties will always be offered at affordable prices, which is invaluable. The city council should be doing everything possible to support them and other nonprofits who create and support affordable housing.
Wilmington’s opioid crisis has touched my family personally—but, to be honest, I don’t know if there is a single family in this city that hasn’t been affected. That’s why I strongly support Heart of Wilmington (HOW). It’s a new nonprofit that isn’t aiming to reinvent the wheel. After all, there are so many wonderful organizations working to combat the opioid crisis, whether that be through substance abuse and mental health treatment, providing shelter, etc. But that’s the thing: there are so many resources out there, and it can be difficult to find what you need. HOW is working to create an accessible hub for those seeking a variety of services, as well as a way for potential volunteers to get involved and know what opportunities are available for them to serve and support their community.
I am also incredibly passionate about the work that the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees is doing. Trees are vital for our quality of life, as well as stormwater remediation. The city of Wilmington is currently partnered with the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) to study how urban trees can be used to improve the quality of our local waterways. The study is set to be completed by the end of 2017, and it will identify specific locations that need more trees, as well as tree-related practices that could be implemented to increase tree coverage, which reduces erosion, cools the city, and mitigates stormwater runoff. It will also show how much tree canopy cover the city had in 2015, when the study began—and how much the city has today. I think those numbers will reveal a stark drop in trees, and once we have the results of this study, we will see both the need for more urban forests, as well as possible solutions from a reputable research organization. I would work closely with the Wilmington Tree Commission and the Alliance for Cape Fear Trees to enact those recommendations.