Learn, Discuss, Take Action on Transit!

Important note:  Learn, Discuss, Take Action on Transit will be held at Extraordinary Ventures at 5:15 pm on Elliott Road opposite Whole Foods, (not the Town library as previously announced.)

When C.H.A.L.T. learned about the new 2.5 billion dollar pricetag for the light rail portion of GoTriangle’s transit plan, we decided it was time to dig in to the finances and reevaluate if the Orange County Bus Rail Investment Plan would reduce congestion and provide for our future needs. Public transportation is critical for our region and we need the best value from our investment!

This is the time to get informed. Join us on Tuesday, 5:30 pm, March 14th, at Extraordinary Ventures on Elliott Road.  Come early at 5:15 pm to see the exhibits and enjoy the refreshments. Orange County experts will explain our current transportation plans and citizen experts will evaluate our options. Because GoTriangle did not get plans and financial details to Orange County in time for a considered public review, major capital decisions are rushed and must be made by the end of April.

Get prepared to tell the Commissioners what you think at a public hearing to be held 7:00 pm, April 18th at the Richard Whitted Building on Tryon Street in Hillsborough.

This is why  your voice matters now! Learn about our transit options at this meeting.
March 14, 2017 • 5:15 pm – 7:30 pm   Exhibits open at 5:15 pm

Extraordinary Ventures, 200 S. Elliott Road, Chapel Hill

Why Orange County’s Transportation Plan is a Pressing Issue for Orange County Taxpayers
Since January we’ve found out that state funding cut backs have raised our local share for the Light Rail project from 25% to 40%.  We are exposed to several big risks that would drive our local costs higher.  At the March 8th County Commisison meeting, we learned that a large part of the borrowing required to fund the local cost share had not been disclosed by GoTriangle, driving the total project cost of the Light Rail alone to $3 billion or more. (See and hear video of Earl McKee’s questions below under transit links.)
What is Bus Rapid Transit?
A cost effective technology is available and Chapel Hill has proactively planned for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the MLK corridor between Eubanks Rd near I-40 and Southern Village.  At a recent Chamber of Commerce event, Brian Litchfield, Director of Chapel Hill Transit, showed in this video how this BRT system would work in Chapel Hill.  Check it out. Joe Milazo of the Regional Transit Alliance pointed out that BRT could be installed on many corridors, such as 15-501 and 54, at a fraction of the cost of light rail. Learn what BRT on our major corridors could do for our transportation efficiency.
Links About Proposed Transit Plans

How to Contact the County Commissioners

After you’ve become informed, we encourage you to write letters to the County Commissioners and the local newspapers.


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Chapel Hill as a Technology Center?

Chapel Hill is home to one of the nation’s leading research universities, but has not, previously, been successful at retaining UNC start-ups or attracting light industrial companies.   We note two forward steps taken by the Town this week toward creating a climate that will attract technology jobs to Chapel Hill.  

First,  on the night of Monday Feb. 20, 2017, the Council considered a new light industrial zone — a first step in attracting technology, wet lab or light manufacturing firms, a goal for which we have long advocated.

Why does Chapel Hill need this zone?  UNC has spun out approximately 300 start-up companies over the last several decades. However, once these companies begin to prosper and emerge from on-campus ‘incubators’ they are forced to leave town because no suitable facilities are available. Until recently, there has been little coordination between the university and the local government.

We are pleased to see that Council is taking this step. Joan Guilkey representing CHALT shared observations about the scope and the likely technology business the zone is apt to attract, and those it would not attract. She made a number of suggestions on our behalf to improve the regulation and make it more straight forward. See CHALT recommendations.

The second noteworthy step this week is that Mayor Hemminger convened an Innovation Summit Breakfast on February 23rd attended by fifty Chapel Hill innovators and entrepreneurs, including UNC scientists and a number of young entrepreneurs who had successfully  ‘graduated’ from the UNC LAUNCH facility, real estate people, and a number of Town and University staff.

The main purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm about a proposed ‘Innovation Council’ to help support start-ups and growing companies in Chapel Hill.  Many agreed with the Mayor’s assessment the most successful models for fostering stronger innovation economies are led by the private sector as opposed to the local government or university. While UNC and the Town could be helpful, it is really the business community that needs to lead this effort, as happened in Ann Arbor, Boulder and in Durham at the highly successful American Underground.

Additional reading:

June 7th, 216,  High Tech Forum sponsored by C.H.A.L.T.
Is Chapel Hill Missing the Boat on High Tech?  This story explains why a new zone is needed.

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A New Concept for Transit


A better public transit concept for Orange County would replace expensive 2.5B current light rail with lower cost Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines (plus commuter rail through Hillsborough) with a network of frequent bus and ride-sharing services.

On February 13, CHALT and SMART TRANSIT presented to the Town Council a concept for serving our transit needs through a network of transit service that could cost half as much and serves a much wider population of county residents.

Please view the presentation here: Transit Plan Presentation (PDF)

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Packed Town Council Agenda Features Transit

County Bus and Rail Investment Plan.

Last December, GoTriangle planners asked the Orange County Commissioners for additional funds to cover a 40 million dollar shortfall. Then several weeks later, Gotriangle announced funds were not needed afterall, explaining that they will issue $935 million in new debt which will be paid using the 1/2 sales tax for another 50 years until 2062!  GoTriangle has made it clear that local counties will pay cost overruns. That could limit the growth of  bus service capacity to serve our growing county.

dolrrouteMap of proposed light rail project that serves only a tiny corner of Orange County. The developable  land served by the light rail line is almost all in Durham County. Light Rail will steer investment away from Orange County, hurting our tax base and

At the December County Commission meeting, GoTriangle promised Commissioners an up or down vote in April on the light rail portion of the plan whose total cost has escalated from 1.3 to 2.5 billion dollars. We wonder what happened to that promise. Given the new price tag and questions about the plan, we think citizens are due a public discussion and transparent decision in April as promised.  The more we study the GoTriangle Plan, the less there is to recommend it for Orange County residents trying to get around by public transit.

Also on the agenda is a GoTransit announcement for  upcoming design workshops on the station areas in Orange County. Those  Orange County station stops are:  UNC Hospitals, Mason Farm, Hamilton Road, and the Friday Center.  Two station stops in Durham County are Woodmont and Leigh Village.

Let’s think realistically about the prospects for economic growth and or affordable housing at each of these stops? UNC Hospitals, Mason Farm, and Friday Center proposed stations are all located on University land which limits taxable growth and are not located close to residential housing.  Hamilton Road offers little redevelopment potential as it was recently redeveloped.  Where are the much touted economic benefits?

Other key agenda items include:
– Report on OWASA water outage
– Transportation and Energy Efficiency Petitions
Announcement of Design Workshops for Light Rail project
Update on Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan
Retirement Residences, Estes Drive

Here is the entire Council agenda. (click on link)

It’s Time to Stop, Look and Listen on Light Rail Project

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Chinese New Year!

A growing community in Chapel Hill!

The Jan. 28 festival will bring dragon dances, art, music and food to University Place in celebration of Chapel Hill’s diverse cultures.
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Elkin Hills Conservation District Approved by Council

Monday night, Jan 23rd,  was an exciting night for the Elkin Hills neighborhood.  After 6 years of hard work the Town Council voted to create a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) in Elkin Hills, one of Chapel Hill’s oldest neighborhoods.

Elkin Hills is one of the last relatively affordable neighborhoods near UNC. It consists almost entirely of small, single-family houses, built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when a typical American house was less than 1,000 square feet. Many houses in Elkin Hills are even smaller, at 800 square feet, but most include modest front yards and backyards that give residents a feeling of spaciousness. Elkin Hills is a modest, pleasant, leafy place to live. The NCD will allow the neighborhood to retain its current character as a quiet, safe and walkable area with plentiful vegetation and birds.

Part of the neighborhood’s appeal, in addition to its location within walking and biking distance of downtown Chapel Hill, is that the mix of small to mid-size houses attracts a diverse population of owners and renters that include families with children, senior citizens, students, UNC faculty, single people and couples of all ages.

Several years ago the neighbors began meeting to discuss their concern that future development of Carolina North, along with the rapid pace of town-wide development, would destroy the peaceful character and affordability of Elkin Hills. The Council vote represents the culmination of countless meetings and discussions with Elkin Hills residents and town staff. The town manager is recommending that the council create the NCD, but the council needs to hear from all citizens that they wish to protect what makes Chapel Hill special.

Chapel Hill is under tremendous pressure to urbanize. Some people believe that replacing single-family houses with duplexes and multi-family units will result in more affordable housing for everyone. But does this argument make sense? Development and redevelopment inevitably come with higher per-unit costs, as builders seek to maximize their return on investment.

The NCD is a tool for preserving moderate-priced housing. Preserving existing moderate-priced housing is always cheaper than trying to build new affordable housing. It’s impressive that neighbors have worked together 6 years and come up with a result that has required substantial compromises.

It’s important for Council members to respect the long process and the result of their work.  Adding duplexes would not make this neighborhood more affordable as new construction is more expensive.  But it also would undercut their work.

Finally, approving the Elkin Hills, NCD as your Planning Commission has recommended, will help to preserve one of Chapel Hill’s few remaining neighborhoods of reasonably priced single family homes and thus will promote our town goal of providing “a place for everyone.”

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Wishing you Happy Holidays and Looking Back at 2016

                                             Carolina Inn – Chapel Hill’s Christmas Centerpiece

Happy Holidays to our family of supporters and all those who want to make Chapel Hill an even better place to live.  This Our Town website is chock full of interesting local news, articles, and opinion about our home town, Chapel Hill.   Learn about the goals of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) by reading our past newsletters, blog posts, or by attending our educational events.

CHALT advocates for a livable Chapel Hill by educating and promoting a future that will honor and protect Chapel Hill’s small town character, and our longstanding values of inclusion, environmental stewardship and education. Detailed mission and goals can be found here.

  A Look Back at 2016……

The New Mayor and Council

The election of Pam Hemminger as Mayor of Chapel Hill has brought practical economic policies and a kinder gentler tone to Town governance.  Many citizens feel more welcome at Council meetings.  Petitions are now handled expeditiously instead of lost in an abyss, and upcoming public hearings are listed on a town webpage. The Mayor initiated a Food for the Summer progam that was an enormous success. Her energy and boundless interest in all aspects of the Town are astounding.

The election of CHALT – endorsed Council members Jessica Andersen and Nancy Oates has meant that citizens whose views were not previously represented on the Council, now have a voice.  Nancy and Jessica’s  presence has sharpened the Council’s oversight role of the management of the town by their insightful questioning of Council direction and town policies. We appreciate their service!

American Legion Sale: a Big Win for the Town! 

We celebrate the Town Council’s new support for a more enlightened use of the American Legion property, rather than the unimaginative and fiscally draining luxury apartments previously proposed. The sale of this land to the town means the Town will add an additional park with other opportunities that will benefit everyone.  Kudos to the entire Town Council and especially to Mayor Hemminger for leading the negotiations!  We look forward to having public participation in the strategic planning process to create our newest park.

Sancar Turkish Cultural Center

On November 21, The Town Council unanimously approved a local Nobel laureate’s plan to create a Turkish cultural center on East Franklin Street. The Council approved a special use permit for 1609 E. Franklin St, formerly the site of a contentious hotel proposal that was not approved.

Named for UNC scientists Aziz and Gwen Sancar, the center will feature net-zero energy buildings, which means that the roof-mounted solar energy systems will produce sufficient energy to offset any energy taken from the electrical grid to run the buildings’ energy systems.  This building design will set the standard for future sustainable development in Chapel Hill.

Transportation Planning Upgrades

After years of thinking and talking about it, it appears the Town is finally on track to improve transportation planning by implementing a traffic model for Ephesus Fordham that can be utilized for the entire town. In addition, CHALT’s Fred Lampe petitioned the Transit Partners to evaluate electric buses who requested that Chapel Hill Transit hire a consultant to study how much an electric bus costs over the useful lifetime of the vehicle.

Ephesus Fordham District (E-F)

We know that many Town Council members agree with us that the Form Based Code (FBC) that governs the Ephesus Fordham District needs to be fixed.  The zone encompasses nearly 200 acres and was intended as an initiative to spur more vibrant and interesting growth. Most agree that the FBC did not achieve these intentions and that progress toward repairing this new zone has been too slow. In June 2016, the Town Council made an amendment requiring  a designed break or pass through in the otherwise monolithic building form, but until the remaining problems with the FBC are fixed, developers are free to propose buildings that meet but few restrictions.

Consultants hired. In addition to making modest design changes to the FBC, the Council directed the Town Manager to hire a number of consultants to address “walkability”, transportation and design guideline elements that were not included in the original FBC approved in May of 2014. See town webpage of scheduled code improvements.

New zone replaces Town ordinances.  It is worth remembering that in approving the FBC, the Town Council abandoned some of the finest aspects of our Land Use Management Ordinance, specifically height restrictions, setbacks, and buffers, as well as requirements for affordable housing, and stormwater management.  The resulting projects so far, show what happens when public hearings are removed from the review process. Few people appreciate the monstrous new high rise luxury apartments on South Elliott Road that have eliminated the large trees we previously enjoyed along the road and those along the greenway bordering Booker Creek. The one story buildings in Rams Plaza are not objectionable (they could have been 2- 3 stories)  but the FBC failed to solve the entry and exit problems. And there is general concern about building large new buildings in what was formerly the Resource Conservation District in the flood plain.

Touted transportation improvements. The jury is out as to whether the highly touted Ephesus Rd – 15-501 intersection improvements or the planned extension of Elliott Rd will actually relieve traffic congestion and be worth the taxpayer contribution.

Current E-F strategy may not be working.  Everyone is concerned about the RAM proposal for large new monolithic buildings to be built in the Resource Conservation District and the flood plain from Elliott along Fordham Blvd which could be approved 45 days after the application is submitted. That proposal conflicts with the Town’s own proposal to build a stormwater storage pond there that would also create needed green space and park space. As is the case for all potential projects in the Ephesus Fordham District, the Town Manager has exclusive decision-making authority, since the FBC requires no public hearings.  The only other oversight allowed by the FBC is comment by the Community Design Commission on building facades.

The Consultants’ work is not yet complete but progress is not encouraging.  The walkability recommendations recently presented to the Council ignored the public pleas for green spaces, and safe biking and walking, and instead promoted changes the land owners preferred.

Perhaps more worrisome, while the Town Council professes commitment to fixing the FBC, they do not appear in a hurry to do so before more bad projects are approved.  See Chapel Hill news story about more apartments on 15-501 and Elliott built in a low lying flood zone. We are losing faith that the FBC can be fixed and wonder whether moving back to the previous rules for approving proposals would not be a better approach.

Light Rail Price Tag Out of Sight 

Orange County’s transportation plan includes a robust bus service to outlying areas, bus rapid transit, and light rail.  The immediate funding problem will come to a head in April when the County Commissioners will be asked to pay the extra costs for the light rail price tag which has gone through the roof due to the diminishing chances of state funding. GoTriangle is looking to the local counties (Durham ad Orange Counties) to make up the difference to the tune of 250 million dollars and more.

CHALT is concerned that the price will preclude the development of the more flexible portions of the plan as well as impact County responsibilities for schools and social services.  We believe that the extraordinary costs of the light rail proposed plan makes this a good time for Orange County Commissioners to reevaluate the County’s participation in a plan that does not appear to benefit anyone but UNC Health Care.

Support our Educational Efforts

Finally, please support our excellent Speakers Series by making a donation today.  Press the Donate Button to the right and support our work.

Thank you for your interest and support!

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Our State: North Carolina GOP to strip some of Democratic Governor’s power

Durham Herald Dec 17, 2016

Repubicans Undermine Eletion Results

RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans stripped the incoming Democratic governor of some of his authority on Friday and they were on the cusp of an even greater power grab, an extraordinary move that critics said flies in the face of voters.

Just last week, it appeared Republicans were ready to finally accept Democrats’ narrow win in a contentious governor’s race. As it turns out, they weren’t done fighting. In a surprise special session in the dying days of the old administration, some say the Republican-dominated legislature has thrown the government into total disarray, approving two bills aimed at emasculating incoming Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration. One of them was signed into law by the current governor.

Cooper, the current attorney general, has threatened to sue. And many in the state are accusing Republicans of letting sour grapes over losing the governor’s mansion turn into a legislative coup.

“This was a pure power grab,” said retired school librarian Carolyn White, 62, a long-time demonstrator who was arrested as part of the “Moral Monday” protests against GOP-led legislative policies. “I got arrested two years ago. Did it make any difference? No. But just like the civil rights movement, it’s forward together. You just have to keep going forward.”

The protesters were so loud that Senate and House cleared the galleries — a highly unusual move. More than 50 people were arrested this week, and as demonstrators were led away from the Legislative Building, some chanted “all political power comes from the people.” Those that remained behind could only watch the debate through glass windows or listen to it online.

Hundreds stomped their feet and yelled outside the gallery, causing several Republican lawmakers to note they were having trouble hearing during the debate. Democrats repeatedly stated their objections.

“The kindergartners are getting rowdy,” said Republican Rep. Dana Bumgardner.

He said Democrats were “creating out of thin air a talking point for the next election.”

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who lost to Cooper by about 10,000 votes, quickly signed into law a bill that merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission into one board comprised equally of Democrats and Republicans. The previous state elections board law would have allowed Cooper to put a majority of Democrats on the elections panel.

The law would also make elections for appellate court judgeships officially partisan again.

Another bill that received final legislative approval would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be subject to Senate confirmation. Before adjourning, lawmakers confirmed a salaried appointment to the state Industrial Commission for the wife of McCrory’s chief of staff. McCrory nominated her.

McCrory must decide whether to sign the second law passed by the General Assembly, a body that has repeatedly tugged him to the right even though he campaigned as a moderate in 2012 as Charlotte’s former mayor.

Republicans insist the legislation is simply adjusting the constitutional powers already granted to the General Assembly. Many provisions had been debated for years but had either gotten blocked or the Democratic viewpoint previously won out.

Read more here.

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American Legion Post 6 Signs off on Chapel Hill Land deal

CHAPEL HILL — The general membership and executive committee of American Legion Post 6 have signed off on a deal with the Town of Chapel Hill, finalizing a contract for the town to purchase the post’s 36-acre property.

The veterans organization’s general membership voted unanimously to accept the town’s offer to purchase the property for $7.9 million during a meeting Thursday night after the local post’s executive committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to recommend it. The town is expected to close on the property in early 2017.

“We are elated,” Post 6 Commander Bill Munsee said. “We couldn’t be happier. Now we are ready to begin closing the book on Post 6 in Chapel Hill and getting into a new building and moving on.”

The Chapel Hill Town Council voted earlier this month for Town Manager Roger Stancil to sign a contract to purchase the 1714 Legion Road property, with an installment purchase plan with three payments. At the time of closing, the town would make the first payment of $3.6 million from its fund balance or savings with two equal payments of $2.15 million to follow in 2018 and 2019. According to a presentation made to the Chapel Hill Town Council, the town ended the fiscal year $3.6 million over its fund balance target.

The American Legion will continue to occupy the clubhouse, dance studio and surrounding land for at least three years for $1 per year to give the organization time to find another space.

“We’ll be looking for land and probably be building a new building,” Munsee said.

In 2015, the property appraised for $4.8 million, but the value jumped up to $10.3 million if the land was rezoned to allow 500 apartments, 30 townhomes and 50,000 square feet of office space. Raleigh-based Woodfield Acquisitions offered $9 million for the property and proposed a similar project. The town council decided against purchasing the property then, but members said Chapel Hill was in better financial shape to purchase the property now.

Once the town has officially closed on the property, a multi-month strategic planning process will begin to best decide how to develop the property.

“The council affirms its intent that the American Legion property be used for a mix of purposes, both public and private, consistent with the guiding principles approved by council in June 2016 and that council expects the town will recoup a portion of the purchase price by making some portions of the American legion property available for private development,” according to a resolution that was approved in an 8-to-1 vote by the town council.

There’s an assumption, according to the council presentation, that a portion of that land will be used as a park as it neighbors Ephesus Park.

Contact Anna Johnson: ajohnson@heraldsun.com, 919-419-6675.


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It’s Time to Stop, Look and Listen on Light Rail Project

dolrrouteMap of proposed light rail project that serves only a tiny corner of Orange County. The developable  land served by the light rail line is almost all in Durham County. Light Rail will steer investment away from Orange County, hurting our tax base and employment opportunities.

It’s time to stop, look and listen because Orange County’s bill for the light rail project connecting Duke with UNC hospitals has just doubled — resulting in increased property taxes — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our County budget will be on the hook for cost overruns into the future putting our schools and social services at risk.

♦  On Monday, December 5th the Orange County Commissioners will meet in the Richard Whitted Building in Hillsborough to discuss the GoTriangle funding request.  If you wish to ask the Commissioners to delay any commitment to additional funding for this project until a proper cost benefit evaluation, scroll to the bottom of this article to sign the petition. ♦

GoTriangle has finally recognized that this regional transit authority will need more funding and that it’s not coming from the state of North Carolina. GoTriangle is asking Durham and Orange counties to makde up the difference!  For a start they are asking the Orange County Board of County Commissioners for an additional $40 million in funding, raising the local contribution from 25% to 40% of the overall project cost.

All this assumes that the state legislature grants full funding of 10% and that the project, which is only 30% engineered, will come in on budget- it’s aready gone up and they have not even started the design work.

In addition, GoTriangle has requested that an additional $20 million be diverted from sidewalk/greenway projects to the Light Rail project.

GoTriangle representatives explained that the increase in funding is intended to cover a $250 million funding gap created by a decrease in state contributions from 25% to “up to 10%”, as well as interest costs associated with a mismatch between the timing of funds from the Federal Transportation Authority and construction.

Unfortunately, missing from GoTriangle’s presentation was information about a number of other important financial factors which will, very likely, mean that the project cost (and Orange County’s share) will rise even further. These include:

  • Rising interest rates
  • Rising constriction labor costs
  • Uncertainties about federal contributions
  • Lower sales tax revenues than expected
  • Possibility of less than 10% state contribution
  • Amount of cost overruns the county must absorb

Note: Assuming the revised budget is $1.87B, then there is already an increase of $520M (+38%) over the earlier 2012 estimate of $1.35B … and they haven’t even finished designing the project!

See article by Tammy Grubb in Chapel Hill News, Orange, Durham asked to spend $175 milllion more for light transit and Commentary by Orange County Chairman Earl McKee, http://bit.ly/2fT8BRI

Everyone wants better transit, and Orange County voters approved a local tax in 2015 for improved transit.  But the money raised is going overwhelmingly to funding light rail studies, while shortchanging investment in the practical public transportation that we need here in Orange County.

Why should County elected officials reevaluate the light rail project now?  The cost of the project may have exceeded any perceived benefit and would reduce funding for important Orange County priorities:

  1. A viable Chapel Hill transit system which better serves Chapel Hill and which can be expanded into rural areas where UNC workers live;
  2. Future funding for Bus Rapid Transit, sidewalks, and bikeways;
  3. Maintaining excellence in our public schools which have been hit hard by state cutbacks; and
  4. Moderating tax increases to keep living in Orange County affordable.

The County Commission have not said where they would find the funds for the additional funding for light rail, but most likely it would come from new property taxes –  estimated to rise by 10 cents if the carrying costs of the bonds just passed are factored in.

When we raise taxes we make it more and more difficult to make living in Orange County affordable. Taking on this heavy light rail commitment for the next ten years would squeeze our public school budgets just when the state has cut funding for public schools,  forcing our county to make up the difference with property tax revenue.

Before the Commissioners commit to any more County money they must:

  • Understand how the additional commitments would impact future Orange County school budgets and other priorities for housing, affordability and transportation.
  • Do an evaluation by an independent auditor of the figures GoTriangle presents, as well as the benefits and costs of the light rail project in the light of the cost increases.

♦    Sign the petition asking the County Commissioners to hit the “pause button”  http://bit.ly/DOLRT_OC

You can send an individual emails to the Board members to reinforce concern and/or opposition to county dollars being spent on the Light Rail project here:  ocbocc@orangecountync.gov.

You can see all letters in the Commissioner public record here.


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