The two Democratic candidates for the Rivanna District seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors met on Saturday for their first, and likely only, forum ahead of the June 11 primary.
The forum, held at the Northside Library by the Rivanna District Committee of the Albemarle County Democratic Party, also included those seeking the party’s nominations for the 17th District state Senate seat and the 57th House of Delegates seat.
Bea LaPisto Kirtley, a retired school teacher, principal and director for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Jerrod Smith, a grants analyst at PRA Health Sciences, are running for the seat currently filled by Democrat Norman Dill, who is not running for reelection.
Smith was raised in the Rivanna District, attended Albemarle High School and Bucknell University and received a master’s in public policy from the University of Virginia’s Frank D. Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He serves on the county’s Places29 North Community Advisory Committee. He has also served as the Rivanna District co-chair for the Albemarle Democratic Committee.
LaPisto Kirtley, a Virginia native, moved to Keswick with her husband in 2007. She previously served as a city councilor and mayor pro tem in Bradbury, California, and on other local government boards. She has also volunteered for local nonprofits, including Hospice of the Piedmont and 100+ Women Who Care.
When asked about the obstacles to increasing rural broadband, Smith said there is no one, catch-all solution to broadband internet access. He said that he wants to advocate for more funding to come to this area to further the efforts of private companies.
“If we need to create more public-private partnerships or examine the extent of our public-private partnerships to bring broadband access to the rural areas, then we need to do that,” he said.
Smith said he wants to be an advocate to fight for funding and creative, sustainable solutions to make sure people have the access they need.
LaPisto Kirtley said she would like to see rural broadband come to the area more quickly.
“It’s a health and safety issue; it’s not just for the children, it’s not just for those in school, it’s a health and safety issue for all of us to have broadband internet access,” she said.
LaPisto Kirtley said she’s spoken to representatives with Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, which is working to provide broadband to its customers, but she said Dominion Energy isn’t doing much and that Rappahannock Electric Cooperative is talking about doing something.
“Let’s put pressure on Dominion, because that’s the big boy in the room,” she said.
In terms of making economic development more “broadly beneficial,” Smith said he wants to take entrepreneurship more seriously and take a different approach.
“What I really want to focus on is empowering our entrepreneurs and our small businesses. Let’s make sure that we give them the resources, the tools they need to succeed,” he said.
He said he supported the county starting a small business fund.
“I think that we can empower our community ... and we can build up, and we can show that we don’t need big corporations to come in and save the day, that we can do it from our people,” Smith said.
She said that economic opportunity goes with economic development, and that can be started at the county level with a living wage.
“We can provide $15 an hour, a living wage, the same thing [the University of Virginia] does, and that’s something that will help everybody who works at the county level,” she said.
On the topic of affordable housing, LaPisto Kirtley said she would like to see a permanent affordable housing fund and tax reimbursements for developers who provide affordable housing
“Another way to address it, if we do have a permanent affordable housing fund, is to make sure that we buy up those properties when they do become available and put those as part of our stock of affordable housing,” she said.
Smith said the county has to be open to multiple approaches, and he wanted to explore land trusts, work on public transportation around the urban ring and examine zoning policies.
“Are our zoning policies really reflective of where we want to be in the future?” he asked.
When asked about traffic infrastructure or mitigation programs for people who can’t access the bus, Smith said he wants to see the county use real-time data to “get smart” about traffic.
“I think we can examine our public-private partnerships and have data-based solutions for our traffic,” he said.
He spoke about issues at the U.S. 20 intersections with Proffit Road and U.S. 250 and said that changes needed to be made there.
A new roundabout at the intersection of Proffit Road and U.S. 20 received state funding in 2018, and the construction is scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2023.
LaPisto Kirtley said traffic is affecting the entire region.
“We need a regional approach to be able to address those concerns,” she said.
Currently, the county, Charlottesville, UVa, JAUNT and other transit-related entities are part of the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership, an official advisory board that will provide recommendations to decision-makers in the area on transit issues.
She said the community needs to provide a bus system with smaller electric buses that make more frequent stops.
“It has to be something that works for the citizens,” she said.
The candidates also spoke about infrastructure priorities, climate change and education.
The Democratic primary will be held June 11. No Republicans or independents have entered the race.