By Nona Tepper
Erika Bachner is running for River Forest village trustee, saying she's passionate about the issues of equity, engagement and economic development. Three seats will open on the board come April.
"It is time for us to make sure that we are keeping equity in mind whenever we're approaching these big and small decisions," she said. "To me, that is an important enough reason to get involved."
Bachner was born in Evanston and spent most of her childhood on the north shore of Chicago, living her entire life in and around the city. She has worked in several industries, including real estate mergers and acquisitions, interior architecture, and for more than 13 years currently, investment banking. Bachner moved to River Forest about 10 years ago, where she lives in a townhome on the 7200 block of Le Moyne Street with her husband and daughter. This is the first elected position she's run for, and Bachner said she has about five women helping run her campaign.
She said she was inspired to run, in part, over the village's handling of the creation of the tax-increment financing (TIF) district along North Avenue. While the village held more than the state-mandated number of public meetings related to the TIF, Bachner said there were plenty of questions left from the community about the new entity. "I think it warranted more meetings," she said, particularly closer to where the TIF was being proposed. She said the village did have a community outreach meeting near North Avenue, but that wasn't recorded. At the village board meeting on Jan. 27, she said trustees discussed using social media to engage residents, a measure Bachner thinks is "long overdue."
"I think that this North Avenue TIF district is an amazing opportunity for economic development, we don't have many ways to get revenue and so North Avenue is going to be a really great potential to do something like that," she said.
But "I spoke with a lot of community members who were in that corridor and they just didn't feel like they understood the issue, didn't understand the plan…People knew decisions were being made but didn't know about what that meant for them one, three, five years down the road."
If elected to the board, Bachner said she "loves" the idea of holding informal meetings where residents can sit down with a few members of the board and talk about whatever's on their minds. She also likes the idea of recording the board meetings via Facebook livestream, so community members who aren't able to attend in-person can still see what's going on and ask questions in the moment.
She believes that the village should focus more on maintaining the housing stock it already has—particularly its historical homes—and prioritize growing its number of multi-family units, so seniors looking to downsize can remain in the village and age in place. "I am concerned about eminent domain," she said. When Bachner moved to River Forest she said a plan proposed eminent domain of her townhome. When trustees approved the North Avenue TIF, they added a clause that protected single-family homes from eminent domain but does not protect multi-family units.
"The current board, from what I can recall, most of the members have said [eminent domain] is not an issue for them, but you don't want to count on individuals," she said, adding: "These are communities that have really built themselves within these neighbors and it's important that we keep the diversity of socioeconomic status here in River Forest, that does a lot for our community."
Bachner co-chairs the Parent Enrichment/IMPACT liaison committee at Roosevelt Middle School, where her daughter is enrolled, and has previously served on the executive board for the Willard Elementary School PTO. She is treasurer of PASO West Suburban Action Project, an immigrant advocacy group, and co-leads an area Indivisible group.
"I think my experience collaborating with so many different organizations around the rights of people and having the awareness of equity in every single decision would make sure there is voice represented on the board that I feel isn't currently there," she said. "I am someone who has a lower income, wife of a veteran, lives in the townhomes, and really think I can speak to different neighbors that aren't necessarily thought of when someone first thinks of River Forest."
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