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DeKalb CEO candidates talk pedestrian safety, affordable housing during forum

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DeKalb CEO candidates talk pedestrian safety, affordable housing during forum

DeKalb CEO candidates Larry Johnson, Steve Bradshaw and Lorraine Cochran-Johnson participated in a forum hosted by Decaturish and Atlanta News First, and in partnership with the League of Women Voters. The forum aired on March 27, 2024, on ANF+. Photo provided by ANF.

DeKalb County, GA—DeKalb CEO candidates discussed pedestrian safety and affordability during a forum hosted by Decaturish and Atlanta News First, which streamed on ANF+ on March 27.

The forum moderators were ANF reporter Doug Reardon, Rashidah Hasan with the Georgia League of Women Voters, and Decaturish publisher Dan Whisenhunt.

Larry Johnson, Steve Bradshaw, and Lorraine Cochran-Johnson are the candidates running for DeKalb CEO. All three candidates are former or current county commissioners. Johnson represented District 3, and Cochran-Johnson represented District 7. Both stepped down when they qualified to run for CEO. Bradshaw currently represents District 4.

There were several pedestrian deaths in the county over the last year. Propel ATL, a pedestrian safety advocacy group, found that there were 38 pedestrian deaths in 2022, which was a 23% increase over the previous year.

The candidates noted sidewalks and crosswalks should be expanded, and there should be more education and enforcement of pedestrian safety.

“As the CEO, my job is to continue to make sure folks respect pedestrians,” Johnson said. “We’re going to put sidewalks where they need to go. We’ll put our bike ramps where they need to go.”

Johnson added that he would also focus on environmental modifications, education, and enforcement.

“You have to engage in those three E’s from a public health perspective to make sure folks are educated from the driver to the walker, and also make sure we have environmental modifications in place that we don’t put pedestrians in injury’s way to make sure they’re [not] at risk of getting hit,” he said.

Cochran-Johnson said she would focus on doing more traffic studies to be able to take a more proactive approach to pedestrian safety.

“I think it’s very important to begin a top-down approach where we would take a look at the locations where we’ve had incidents, determine whether or not we have proper speeds in place, to calm traffic and then determine what measures are necessary in order to ensure we have safe crossings in DeKalb as to prevent injuries for our citizens,” Cochran-Johnson said.

Bradshaw said the county should push for greater walkability in new developments, especially around transit-oriented development.

“Anything that’s coming online new should have a walkability component as a part of that zoning and dev process,” Bradshaw said.

He added that the issue comes down to funding. In SPLOST I, about $15 million was set aside for sidewalks, and about $25 million in SPLOST II is dedicated to infrastructure, but it’s still not enough.

“As CEO, would augment those SPLOST funds with general funds to create more walkability and more sidewalks throughout DeKalb County,” Bradshaw said.

Affordable housing has also been a challenge for the county and surrounding areas. The candidates all noted they would work to leverage more public-private partnerships to build more affordable housing.

Johnson would like to start a capital fund and provide funding to help developers looking to build a larger workforce and provide affordable housing in the county.

“As the CEO, my job will be to champion wherever I can to find additional funding to make that happen and also provide seed money in our budget to incentivize, and also work with Decide DeKalb, which also does housing and affordable housing in our communities,” Johnson said.

Cochran-Johnson said thousands of people in DeKalb County are waiting on affordable housing opportunities.

“I think that public private partnerships are going to be very important because currently in order to receive low income housing tax credits…it only requires that a developer set aside 10% of the units, so therefore we’re not making a dent,” she said. “Also, it’s very important that we’re more aggressive in setting higher standards.”

In 2018, the county completed a housing study with various recommendations for creating more affordable options. Not much has been done with that study since then. Bradshaw said there are recommendations in the plan that the county could take action on.

“We, the collective we, haven’t really done anything with it, but as CEO I will start to execute the recommendations in that report,” Bradshaw said.

He also raised concerns about the quality of affordable housing in the county.

“We’ve got to start a program of systematically rehabbing these complexes, one, two, three at a time in public-private partnerships without raising the rates so much that the people who live there currently are displaced,” Bradshaw said.

Candidates also discussed the staffing level of the police department and how they would recruit more officers.

All candidates said they would look at increasing the salary and benefits for officers.

“We raised, two years ago, our police officer salary to $55,000 and that was after a regional study was conducted, however, I believe that we need to keep it local,” Cochran-Johnson said. “We are not competing regionally, but within the metro area.”

Bradshaw agreed and said that if elected, he would “do something pretty dramatic on the compensation and benefits front” to increase the staffing level.

“Right now, where we’re sitting, the precincts are understaffed, and it’s everything that they can do just to answer calls,” Bradshaw said. “Because that’s basically all they’re engaged in, they’re not able to do the other things that we would want from our police force to make it more compatible with our various communities – community policing, police athletic league, and all the things we would want to do to make the relationship between the citizens and the people who police a good one.”

Johnson added that in addition to improving compensation and benefits, the county would also have to look at housing programs and down payment assistance programs for police officers. He would also focus on prevention initiatives to alleviate some of the pressures officers face.

He’d like to see more prevention programs for young people. Johnson would also look at the pay for community service aids.

Candidates also discussed expanding animal shelters in the county, projects along I-285, annexation, and other public safety issues.

Here’s the full forum, provided by Atlanta News First.

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