Arti Walker-Peddakotla is a political activist who works for a nonprofit tech company, but she’s made a name for herself in her run for Oak Park village trustee as a candidate who will work to bring greater racial equity to the village.
Walker-Peddakotla, 37, established the group Oak Park for Racial Equity late last year, urging women of color to run for various governing bodies in elections in Oak Park and River Forest.
Her group attracted candidates for local schools districts, library boards and village boards in the municipal elections set for April 2.
Walker-Peddakotla also is an Army veteran, who served from 2000 to 2006, and holds an M.S. in microbiology and immunology from Loyola University.
Racial equity is the foundation of her platform, and she says the issue of rising property taxes at its core is an equity issue.
She told Wednesday Journal that it is disingenuous for trustee candidates to say “they alone can reduce property taxes.”
Elected officials in Oak Park should be working to lobby the state to pass a progressive income tax and close loopholes for corporate taxes. If elected, Walker-Peddakotla said she would rally constituents to urge the Illinois General Assembly to even the playing field on the tax issue.
Other candidates in the race – Walker-Peddakotla faces 10 other candidates in this election – “don’t understand the full picture.”
“Some people say that’s not a village issue, but that’s a state issue – that’s where I feel people are wrong,” she said. “I’m not seeing that mobilization from local elected officials.”
That would take the form of coffee meetings with constituents and town hall sessions with Oak Parkers “to say, ‘Hey, we need you to advocate for these issues.'”
Walker-Peddakotla said working with other taxing bodies to find efficiencies is key to fixing a village government that is “broken.”
The board should investigate innovative approaches to budgeting, such as priority based budgeting and program-based budgeting, to create better understanding of the budget for trustees and the public, she said.
Walker-Peddakotla said she opposes the consolidation government entities in Oak Park. That concept was rolled out last year by the Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force, an ad hoc committee established last year by the Oak Park Board of Trustees to look into potential savings through intergovernmental cooperation between Oak Park’s various taxing entities.
The task force advanced a ballot initiative last year, which was approved by voters, to further study consolidation of the village with Oak Park Township, the park district and Oak Park Library.
The task force also recommended the creation of a citizen advisory oversight committee to take a broader look at finances within the various taxing entities such as the village and the two school districts.
Walker-Peddakotla said she supports the idea of the oversight committee but stressed that it must be equitable and include renters and those at the lower end of the economic scale.
“I hope we stop listening to developers and start listening to the community,” she said.
Walker-Peddakotla also emphasized the need for the village to adopt a strong inclusionary zoning ordinance, which would bring more affordable housing to the village.
The inclusionary zoning ordinance should include all new construction – the proposal currently under consideration would apply only to new apartment and townhouse developments near the CTA train lines – Walker-Peddakotla said.
She added that the village also should consider the impact new developments are having on rental rates in Oak Park.
“I moved here in 2008 and rented a studio apartment for $735 a month, and I could barely afford that. … I don’t think that’s possible now,” she said.