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District 3: Rachel Watkins Answers Our Questions

Rachel Watkins

Age: 42

Occupation: Events and public relations, Avid Bookshop; information coordinator, Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Party: Democrat

Address: 170 Virginia Ave.

Phone: 706-621-1980 



Athens-Clarke County has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. What should the local government be doing to alleviate poverty?

It is vital that we tell the story of Athens effectively, both nationally and internationally, if we are to attract the kind of business and development that best fits Athens. I can help directly with this effort. I successfully communicate with acclaimed authors and artists regularly. I’m already representing Athens nationally through my work at Avid Bookshop. We need to attract cultural creatives to our city. We have a lot to offer small and medium tech and arts/film businesses and industry. We are also a regional hub for health care services, and I support the development of more public/private health-related partnerships. But not everyone who needs a job in our city will be qualified for those types of jobs. We need to strengthen our partnerships with the Clarke County School District, Athens Tech and UGA to assist with workforce development. And we must make sure that Athenians who do not yet have employment and are currently living in poverty are not left out. Public transportation needs to be accessible, affordable and efficient, as does quality child care and early learning programs. Better access to affordable, healthy food (support for community gardens) and to the Internet (WiFi as a public utility). I have many ideas on how our government can be supportive in these areas—many of them I heard first from my brilliant neighbors and friends.

Downtown development has been a major issue the past few years. Is this a good trend for Athens, and if not, how can we curb it and/or encourage development other than student apartments?

Due to the proximity to campus and the economic impact of students, I believe that the student market is crucial to a thriving and sustainable downtown. However, I am concerned by the cycle of building new student housing. We need to know how we’re going to deal with shifting markets for student housing. There are ways we can influence these developments to make it possible for them to be transitioned into different uses if student housing markets change. We finally have a Downtown Master Plan. Let’s get started on that.

I want to work with developers who want to invest in downtown in a good way. We all want new downtown development to be attractive, interesting and appropriate in scale and design. I have heard from retirees in our community that if there were attractive, affordable units downtown, they would be there in a heartbeat. Mixed development is one of the keys to sustainable communities. Good communities are a mix of generations, ages, people and culture. Make it more attractive and feasible for older residents to live downtown and watch the climate change dramatically for the better. Athens’ vibrant culture makes it one of the top places in the U.S. to retire, yet there are no downtown living spaces that cater to relocating retirees. I get weekly inquiries at the CVB from those all over the nation that want to relocate or retire here.

Do you support expanding Athens Transit service, reducing fares and/or exploring a merger with the UGA bus system? If so, how would you pay for it?

Of course, yes, all of the above. We need to develop our existing partnership with UGA to develop a sustainable, efficient, modern transportation system. But citizens need to be represented at the table at the negotiation table. For example, if the UGA bus took over the Prince Avenue route, ACC resources would be freed up to develop new routes in other areas. We have to be creative about funding transportation and not stymied by a can’t-do-it attitude. If we negotiate wisely with UGA, yes, we could make this happen. I am eager to see the results of the planned transportation study. I would love to see smaller buses for many of the in-town routes, and of course, more frequency. 

Athens is often pigeonholed as “business unfriendly.” Do you support easing restrictions on businesses? If so, which ones?

Yes, it should be easier, faster, more efficient and cheaper for businesses to open in Athens. I am not the first person to suggest that this process could be improved on. It currently takes too long for a new business to open and begin operating. I believe the process can be streamlined. A flexible zoning plan, for example, could allow a business that offers incentives to customers who do not arrive by car to qualify to use a different parking space ratio. This could potentially save a new business owner many thousands of dollars. Do you have solar panels on your business? Do you use all compostable plates and utensils at your restaurant? This should count for something. We have to look at the broader picture.

We need to better publicize the opportunities already existing for small business development. Other candidates have said there should be a small business development area of the Economic Development department. I agree. 

Are you in favor of the Complete Streets: Prince Avenue lane reconfiguration demonstration project? Why or why not?

Yes, I am in favor of gathering data on traffic patterns on Prince Avenue and its arteries. I live a few blocks from Prince Avenue, I work at a Prince Avenue business, and I have children that walk and bike on Prince Avenue. My family travels in some way on Prince Avenue at least once a day. I think we can do more now to make Prince safer for all. I will work actively for that.

What other issues concern you?

One of the things I am hearing over and over is that there is a perception that some components of ACC staff are not always as responsive to elected officials and citizens as they perhaps should be. I want to find out if this perception is accurate and what might be done to alleviate some of these concerns. My proposal to develop a comprehensive customer service feedback survey across all departments could be a simple, yet powerful tool that would enable the mayor and commission to hold staff at all levels accountable.

I promise that I will be proactive in bringing ideas to the table, to the commission, for discussion and implementation–your ideas, as well as, my own. I want to work together with citizens, community leaders, other elected officials and ACC staff to make Athens a better city.