Meet Rye Councilwoman Julie Souza, up for reelection this fall on Tuesday, November 2nd. Souza will be running to fill one of three council seats for a four year term. Others running for the same three seats are Bill Henderson, Ben Stacks and Lisa Tannenbaum. We’ll be running interviews with the other candidates in the coming weeks.
There will be a second race (also on November 2nd) to fill the remaining two years of Pam Tarlow’s council seat. The local political parties are expected to announce their candidates for this race as soon as this week.
Your Name: Julie Souza
Running for: Councilmember
MyRye.com Why are you running for Rye City Council?
Souza: When I first ran for council, my running mates and I ran under the banner of “Moving Rye Forward”. While I am proud of our accomplishments to move things forward for Rye, especially in light of the curve ball thrown by COVID, there is still much to do. I would like to continue to deliver on that goal of moving our city forward in a positive direction.
Why are you running for council now?
Souza: I believe there is still much to accomplish and I feel that my experience serving on council over the last 3.5 years equips me well to continue to serve our community.
What are the three biggest opportunities / challenges facing the City of Rye over the next 3-5 years?
- Investment in infrastructure – from road resurfacing to sewer repairs, Rye has infrastructure needs that require prioritization and funding;
- Capital Improvements – we are embarking on a significant capital improvements plan, including renovations of our courthouse, city hall and DPW facilities;
- Planning for the future – as the lasting effects of COVID begin to settle, it will be important to look at how those changes impact Rye (local laws, master plan, parking, etc.) and plan for the future accordingly.
Please Answer the following questions Yes or No:
|Question||Souza: Yes or No||Souza:|
|Do you believe the City has done a responsible and an effective job of navigating the Coronavirus pandemic?||I believe the City has done a tremendous job navigating COVID. The City of Rye has managed through COVID without a deficit, worked with the Chamber of Commerce to help our downtown, assisted seniors and the homebound in getting vaccinations, and brought many city functions online to protect the community and staff without impacting services.|
|Have you been, or will you be in the next six weeks, fully vaccinated against COVID-19?||I am fully vaccinated.|
|Were you supportive of the various stages of Purchase Plaza during the pandemic?||As the liaison to the Chamber of Commerce, I worked closely with the Chamber to find and implement ideas to keep our downtown afloat. The Rye’s Up campaign, encouraging community support for local businesses, was born out of that effort, as was Purchase Plaza. The collaboration and evolution of the Plaza (opening blocks, diagonal parking, etc.) were in direct response to Chamber and merchant feedback. Though we were reacting in real time last year, the cooperation and good intent shared by the Chamber and the City created a festive downtown that community members enjoyed, as did the majority of businesses.|
|Would you be supportive of Purchase Plaza after the pandemic?||It depends on a variety of factors, including the feedback of the businesses and Chamber, the City’s ability to implement, public safety, community feedback, etc.|
|Do you support the raising of the Pride flag on City flagpoles this June and every June?||Unequivocally, I do.|
|Do you believe there is an issue with racial bias and equality in our community and that the City has a role to play in addressing it?||Unfortunately, Rye is not immune from issues of bias and discrimination. I believe we all have a role to play in making our communities engaging, welcoming and inclusive. The City must (and does) take seriously its obligation to ensure that our staff hiring and promotion, our policing, and the City’s treatment of residents is unbiased and fair.
|Rye City should have additional restrictions on residential development||We need to take a look at our local laws and make sure that they reflect our intentions. We are undertaking aspects of this analysis currently to see if and where additional restrictions or changes to the law are necessary.|
|Are you supportive of the Wainwright House working with Row America Rye?||I am supportive of both the Wainwright House and Row America. I hope the community can come together to support them both, as well.|
|Do you agree the loss of Wainwright House and its property as a public resource would be a significant detriment to the City?||The Wainwright House, built in 1931, is a beautiful part of historic Rye. I would very much like to see the Wainwright House thrive in Rye.|
|Do you agree the closure of the Durland Scout Center on Milton Point in 2007, and its subsequent sale to a developer for private homes, was a real loss for the City?||Unfortunately, I did not live in Rye in 2007 and don’t have a great deal of insight on how that transaction occurred under Mayor Otis or the circumstances surrounding it.|
|Rye City is prepared for the next “100 year” flood||The NY Rising grant money is being deployed to help mitigate flooding impacts in Rye. Councilperson Johnson’s experience on the Flood Advisory Council is helpful as the City continues to look for ways to prepare and protect Rye.|
|Leaf blowers are a health and quality of life nuisance and should be banned entirely from the City||We are currently examining our leaf blower law to see what modifications can be made (electric, etc.).|
|Curbside food scrap recycling should be expanded across the City.||The food scrap recycling program is a great opportunity for Rye to consider its food waste and make attempts to eliminate/reduce that waste.|
|Rye City property taxes are too high||Empirically, perhaps. Comparatively in Westchester, our tax rate is one of the lowest.|
|Rye Playland will be in good hands with Standard Amusements||We don’t have enough information to make a judgment here—a lot remains to be seen as the County resolves its settlement with Standard. I hope that Standard will be good neighbors to Rye.|
|Rye Town Park should be controlled (or owned) by Rye City||The charter of the park articulates shared ownership with the Town of Rye.|
|Rye City needs to reduce its deer population by active management including sharp shooters or bow hunting||There are windows during the year in which this is permissible.|
|Rye City parking downtown is a serious mess and has a negative impact on local business and residents enjoying downtown||I disagree. I can always find parking in the lots in town and the city’s 15-year long wait list for train parking has disappeared. Downtown Rye is welcoming and quaint; I would not describe it as a “serious mess”.|
|Rye City paid meter parking downtown has a negative impact on local business and on residents enjoying downtown||I don’t believe this to be the case. In reviewing neighboring communities, most all charge for parking, including on their streets. Rye does not charge for street parking downtown.|
|Rye City should be more pedestrian and bike friendly||We have a lot of great places to walk and bike in Rye (COVID introduced my dog and me to lots of new routes) and I look forward to new pathways, such as the Forest Avenue sidewalk, for which we secured grant funding, to come to fruition!|
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last year concerning stories about bias in our schools and community came out. Do you acknowledge these stories and believe we should actively address issues of bias? Yes, or No? If Yes, what role should the City have?
Souza: Yes, and as I mentioned previously, we all need to play a role—as institutions, communities and individuals. The Police Review Task Force, led by the City under state guidelines, provided actionable insights to make sure the City and its police force are acting in accordance with our values. That work is on-going, as is our respective obligation to make sure our community is free from discrimination, bias, and bigotry.
Land use and the control of development has been raised as an issue in Rye, fueled by a variety of concerns including flood control and the development of flag lots. Should more be done to bring transparency and control to land use decisions in Rye? If so, what are three of the top recommendations you would make?
- The appropriateness of flag lots should be given careful consideration. While perhaps acceptable in some instances, they are often the most significant contributor to razing and clear cutting;
- Development on steep slopes on properties often contributes to blasting or fill which can change the topography of a property or its wider area. It is important to understand the impacts of development on steep slopes and attempt to mitigate or limit those that are negative;
- We have seen instances of houses being placed awkwardly on lots to maximize square footage, rather than work with proportionality of the lot size. Reviewing setbacks and other requirements in our zoning laws may help to address this phenomenon.
Further on land use, what benchmarks could the City publish annually or semi-annually that could help residents understand the state of land use in the City?
Souza: Much is public record in terms of permits and building plans but perhaps the development of a dashboard (composite view of development activity) would be a helpful tool.
What are the current plans for the former United Hospital site just over the Rye City line in Port Chester? And what should the City be doing to represent its interests?
Souza: The new developer has articulated plans for a mixed use development (retail/hotel/residential). The City has been active in representing our concerns around traffic patterns, congestion, etc. and have legally engaged Port Chester to ensure that protection and consideration is given to the impact of the development on Rye.
The City’s Master Plan was written in 1985, over 35 years ago. Should the City update its Master Plan? If yes, describe the process, timeline, stakeholders, and a few of the issues and policies that might be addressed in this work.
Souza: Yes, especially as we see what the lasting effects of COVID may be on our way of life. The previous Master Plan was a multi-year process and I expect our next iteration would require similar thoughtfulness and diligence. I would also expect it to engage myriad community stakeholders across the city, businesses, schools, community organizations, and residents. Understanding the community needs and where they may be in tension with community wants (parking and green space, for example) will be important to understand and plan for strategically.
Tell us about you:
What is your day job?
Souza: I currently work for Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the head of sports for Global Professional Services. I am also a mom of three, co-president of Midland PTO, a Rye Girls Softball coach, and a volunteer city councilmember. (Feels like more than one day job…)
If you could travel anywhere in the world (post pandemic!), where would you go and why, and who would you take with you?
Souza: Oh gosh…so many places! I would love to travel Asia, visit friends in Switzerland, eat my way through Italy, and watch a football game in Ann Arbor. Always with my husband, John, and our three kiddos.
What are you watching these days?
Souza: Live sports (NHL playoffs currently) and Ted Lasso (season 2 out in July on Apple TV!)
Where do you live in Rye and how many years have you been in the City?
Souza: I live in Loudon Woods neighborhood and have lived in Rye since 2013.
What are three of your favorite food takeout / delivery restaurants in or around Rye?
Souza: Love them all! Longford’s is a family favorite/borderline obsession.
Please provide links to:
Your LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julieneenansouza/
Your Twitter: n/a
Your Facebook: n/a
My career has largely been in sports media and I have worked for CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and Second Spectrum. I currently work as the head of sports for global professional services of Amazon Web Services (AWS). My husband, John, and I live in Loudon Woods neighborhood with our three children. I am currently a volunteer Councilperson for the City of Rye, co-president of the Midland PTO, coach for Rye Girls Softball, and volunteer for a number of other organizations including POTS and the Children’s Philanthropy committee of the Rye Women’s Club. I earned a B.A from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Note: this interview was completed in May 2021.