Arti Walker-Peddakotla

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1) What experience makes you the best candidate to serve as trustee?
I come into this race with a unique perspective that is not currently represented on the village board, or within the group of candidates running in this election cycle. I moved to Oak Park in 2008 as a low-income single mother, when I was starting graduate school at Loyola's Maywood campus. I'm a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor, an Army veteran, and political activist, community organizer, a former scientist and now work as an engineering and product manager in the technology sector. All of these experiences, both personal and professional, have shaped how I think about policy, government, and the intersection of those two things in working to change the world for the better. Politicians need to be aware of their biases, their blind spots, and how their privilege has shielded them from the pain in the world. The people that experience the most pain in the world should be the ones at the seat of power, making policy decisions that reduce the pain experienced by the next generation. That is why I'm running, and that is what I aim to do if I get elected.

2) What do you consider the top three issues of concern in Oak Park and how would you address them
as a trustee?
%u25CF Racism: Let's name what the problem really is in Oak Park. We are the place where people move to for "the diversity and great schools". But many of the residents that live here are not willing to check their privilege, their inherent bias, or their willingness to ignore the pain that people of color experience in Oak Park. Until and unless we have a community that is willing to face what the real problem is - and that is racism and white supremacy - we as a village will never close the opportunity gap, or pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance that places the interests of those that will rely on affordable housing over the interests of developers. By implementing a racial equity policy at the village level, we can fight against the institutional, systemic, and intrapersonal racism by evaluating every single policy decision using a racial equity framework.
%u25CF Economic Classism: Our community wants to be diverse and inclusive - I believe that wholeheartedly. But I also see and hear the inherent classism that emerges whenever we challenge our status quo. We say that we we want affordable housing, but not near our houses. We say that we want an Oak Park where everyone can live, but only if those people meet our standards of decorum or dress. We say that we love our neighboring community members, but aren't willing to share the resources of our community to uplift those around us. Oak Park is rapidly becoming an elitist suburb surrounding by less-well-to-do communities. If we want an Oak Park where everyone can live here, we have to welcome those that are different from us, and work with our neighboring communities to help lift each other up. If elected, I will uplift those voices in our community that are far too often forgotten. I would work with our community-led commissions to draft policy, and include elected officials from neighboring communities in policy decisions. Because policies that are drafted in Oak Park, don't just affect Oak Park. The decisions we make here impact every community around us.
%u25CF Losing our shared values: Too often, in discussions I've had with potential voters, I've heard statements that have stunned me into disbelief. Statements like, "Racial equity is important, but what about my taxes?", or "I moved here for the schools, but now that my kids are done, I don't shouldn't have to pay taxes for these schools anymore." This country was founded on a promise and the hope for a better tomorrow. But it was also founded on the murder of Indigenous people, slavery, and the colonization of the land we call home today. We are a complex nation, and a nation of peoples that are all striving to provide a better tomorrow for our families. Serving in the military, I quickly realized how far the value of compassion could take me as I navigated the horrors of war. Compassion for those that are not like us, for those that don't share the same experiences as us, and especially for those that are less fortunate than us - that in my heart is what I feel is one of the greatest issues in Oak Park. How can we say that we care about diversity when we are so quick to shun it in order to protect our bank accounts? How can we say that we care about racial equity when we won't even hear about the life changing measures that can be put in place if we were just willing to give up a little more of our hearts to ensuring that the next generation grows up with less pain than every previous generation before it? Oak Park faces a moral crisis in this election, and every election hereafter. Will we choose to fight for the values we say we care about, or will we choose to protect the individual wealth we have. I choose the former - and I've always chosen to fight for my values even when I've had not a single penny to my name. It's time that Oak Park does the same - vote for the values we believe and fight for a better tomorrow for everyone in Oak Park.

3) What is your position on affordable housing in the village? Is more or less needed? Why? How would
you address this as a trustee?
We need more affordable housing in Oak Park. We cannot compare ourselves to Evanston or other cities and say that we're doing better, so we don't need to advocate for strong Inclusionary Zoning policies that would actually create more integrated affordable housing units in Oak Park. Additionally, too often, when we think of affordable housing, we think of the lowest income residents in Oak Park - often along racial lines. Affordable housing actually benefits all residents - those residents who want to age-in-place, who want to downsize and move into smaller homes, those residents who earn below the median income in Oak Park.
In addition to adding affordable housing units to Oak Park, we need to work across the state to reduce property taxes, increase the ability for seniors to claim exemptions, and work to implement a progressive state income tax. We also need to allow people that want to live in Oak Park the chance to purchase fixer-upper homes before a developer can offer an all-cash deal (as has happened several times in our community), and re-evaluate 3-flat conversion zoning. I fully support an progressive and strong Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, and acknowledge that an IZO cannot be the extent of our conversation on affordable housing.

4) How would you work to ensure greater equity and diversity in the village?
Equity often gets conflated with "equality". Equality is everyone getting the same thing. Equity is everyone getting what they need in order to achieve the same results. I wholeheartedly support the adoption of a racial equity policy. I am the only candidate in this election running on a racial equity platform, where every single policy decision that I'm considering is written and spoken about using a racial equity framework. A racial equity policy at the village board level would require that the board joins the Government Alliance on Racial Equity, that all village staff and elected officials would be trained to use racial equity frameworks in decision making, and be held accountable to specific goals. We would create metrics to measure and track our improvements, and we must make these metrics and initiatives transparent to our community.
Finally, I will fight for policies that work to protect diversity and advance equity in our village. Equity cannot come second to anything - it cannot come second to property taxes, our infrastructure, or the RFP process at Village Hall. Any candidate that says, "I believe in equity but I also believe that…..", doesn't believe in real equity. Real equity means that it's the only thing you're fighting for and every single policy decision is evaluated through that lens.

5) What should the village do to help ease the tax burden in Oak Park?
Property taxes have increased for a number of reasons, most substantially due to underfunded pension liabilities for fire and police pensions, and the aging infrastructure we need to replace and repair in Oak Park. Due to state law, which mandates that pensions be funded to 90%, we cannot cut, nor should we cut the payments we make to our pension funds. Because previous Village boards failed to fund the pension funds adequately, we are now tasked with not only catching up on our payments, but making sure we don't leave future generations with the same crisis. The truth is that the village is unlikely to be able to cut taxes enough to where we can continue without an additional tax increase. I know that's not what people want to hear, but it's the truth. And any candidate saying that they can cut hundreds from our property taxes is fooling voters. It is the civic duty of local elected officials to work with elected officials across the state and advocate for state-level changes that would benefit their constitutions. The real key to solving our property tax crisis is to close corporate loopholes in the state tax code, implement a LaSalle street tax, and implement a statewide progressive income tax, which would give more money to local governments for school and infrastructure funding. Until and unless we implement these taxes, we will continue to have a property tax problem in Oak Park, and across the state of Illinois. 

6) What would you do to ensure greater cooperation between the Oak Park's various taxing entities?
The creation of IGOV in 2011 was a great step in improving intergovernmental collaboration amongst the 6 taxing bodies in Oak Park. IGOV however is simply a discussion and reporting forum, and I think that needs to change. We need to IGOV to be a purpose-driven committee that is working to enact specific changes across the entire village. One village-wide initiative that I'd like start is an initiative to eliminate the opportunity gap. Currently, we have efforts going on at D200, D97, and even D90, and these three board meet in their Tri-Board meeting. But these efforts aren't enough to eliminate the gap. We need a village wide initiative that works across all the systems to see how we can support each other as we work to create an Oak Park where everyone has equal access to education.

7) What are your thoughts on transparency in the village? Is more or less needed or is the village
currently striking a good balance on transparency?
Only those in power are served when government is not transparent. A transparent government is a citizen's right and should be an expectation. As citizens, we should have clear and easy access to the board agendas. We should have clear and easy access to the minutes following a meeting. And we should have adequate time, notice and opportunity for community involvement in government conversations that affect the whole village. All of these are duties that I believe should be given to the Village Clerk's office, who, since 2008, has seen the office's duties stripped away by the current Village President and Village Manager. The Village Clerk's office is the key to transparency in our village, as that office is the only full-time elected office in the village, and the Village Clerk is answerable to the residents of Oak Park.
I would also push for standardizing a process by which we advertise and hold community meetings so that more citizens have a chance to weigh in on issues - not just the most engaged and most vigilant. I would advocate for policies drafted in part by community stakeholders, instead of the current system, where policies are drafted by Village staff, and those recommendations are then voted upon by Village Trustees, with little to no community involvement in the drafting process. Trustees should name potential conflicts of interest and recuse themselves of voting on issues that intersect those conflicts. Transparency is more than just allowing latent access to the information. Transparency is actively providing the information to those who are most likely to be affected by it.

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2019 7:10 PM

She is often stunned by voters who do not share her beliefs? It is easy to see why.

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