Oak Park Village Trustee Candidate
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*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Ravi Parakkat is the founder of Takeout25 Oak Park, a ground-up movement to save local restaurants and keep restaurant workers employed throughout the COVID-19 crisis. For this impactful initiative, he has been named an Oak Park Villager of the Year for 2020. An Engineer and an MBA, Ravi brings diverse teams together to solve real world problems. A naturalized citizen of Indian origin, Ravi believes that inclusion requires involvement in the community and his candidacy is defined by this belief. Ravi’s unique combination of personal and professional experiences can contribute immensely to rebuilding a well-functioning Board for Oak Park.
What are the biggest equity challenges Oak Park faces, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how will you address those challenges? Equity includes race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, sexual orientation, income level, religion, as well as physical and cognitive capability.
The pandemic has increased our economic divide. In communities like Oak Park where affordability is already a challenge due to high real estate taxation, the pandemic pushes out folks on the lower end of the economic spectrum. This group is also predominantly African American, so this economic inequality results in racial inequity as well.
We should also consider that the definition of “marginalized minority” in Oak Park implies Black, and our equity challenges are characterized as racial Black vs White, to the exclusion of several other forms of diversity (national origin, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age to mention a few). Over 10% of Oak Park’s population is neither Black nor White, and per 2010 census 10.1% were foreign born, 13% spoke a language other English at home and older adults age 65+ is the fastest growing segment of the population. These voices are often underrepresented in equity and diversity conversations. As a result, I believe we, as a community, should:
- Address affordability and equity with innovative ideas. Please see my high-speed internet proposal.
- Focus on sustainable and equitable economic recovery.
- Create housing options at various price points so folks can enter our community and grow as part of it at every life stage.
- Strengthen the Community Relations Commission to reflect the true diversity and talent of Oak Park.
How do you intend to balance the priorities and needs of the community with the financial realities of COVID-19 equitably without inordinately increasing taxation of residents? What are the priorities and needs, in your eyes?
The biggest priorities for our community are affordability, sustainable and equitable economic recovery, and community safety. I believe Oak Park should focus on these three priorities by:
- Collaborating with the other taxing bodies to keep the tax increases to less than 3%
- Pursuing innovative ideas to make the community more affordable. Please see my high-speed internet proposal.
- Creating and enabling an economic recovery plan focused on small business recovery (like Takeout 25) and attracting focused investments in the transition to a green economy.
What does community policing in Oak Park mean to you and do you believe the village should spend less, the same or more on policing and police facilities?
Trust is the very basis for all law enforcement. The Oak Park police department has been an acknowledged leader in community policing methods. Still, there is always room for improvement to maintain Oak Park’s leadership position in this space. While I have not had negative experiences with the Oak Park police department, I do know what it feels like to be stopped for driving while Brown and to be subjected to extra scrutiny at airports for travelling while Brown. I also realize that my experience is not consistent across everyone on Oak Park. In some cases, the Oak Park police department needs to deepen trust, or even repair it, by actively building relationships and partnerships with and within the community.
Community safety is a priority for a stable community. In an environment with no meaningful gun reform, and with economic disparities resulting in crime, the police department is essential to keep our community safe. I do not recommend underfunding the police, but I am open to reimagining public safety with the following considerations as outlined in my proposal on Keeping Our Community Safe.
- The police department and the community at large must BOTH be active participants in a reimagination of public safety.
- The road map from where we are today to the reimagined future must be clear and specific with broad buy-in from all impacted parties.
- Success must be clearly measurable and independently verifiable.
Business and non-profits have suffered due to COVID-19. How will you help facilitate their recovery?
This is not a theoretical question for me. Takeout 25 is a creative marketing platform that grew from my desire to help small business survive the pandemic. It saved businesses, saved jobs, and empowered the community with the tools to help us all support our local businesses. This innovation is sweeping through neighboring communities, states, and across the country. Through Takeout 25, I have partnered with non-profits like Housing Forward to financially enable their mission while helping our restaurants survive. With one night of business activity, we raised ~$38,000! This is the kind of leadership and innovation I will bring to the board.
One comment from Jimmy Chen, who owns Poke Burrito, will always stick with me. He said Takeout 25 is so much more helpful than government stimulus. Stimulus is a one-time shot, while Takeout 25 brings us new customers and will help us thrive even after the pandemic.
In addition to retention of existing businesses we need to ensure we can attract new small businesses and investments that are consistent with the community we want to build back.
I believe that the transition to clean energy presents a huge opportunity for Oak Park to attract federal investments to incubate green businesses, create green jobs, and provide training so that the next generation has access to the opportunities of the future.
How will you address the affordability of living in Oak Park, while understanding that affordability must extend to renters as well as homeowners?
Affordability affects everyone and the lack of it pushes out the most vulnerable in the community like older adults. And the lack of affordability keeps Oak Park out of reach for younger individuals, families and marginalized minorities, many of who are renters. Here are my thoughts on parking in Oak Park – an issue that is linked to affordability.
The Village Board is responsible for decisions involving only ~17% of the overall real estate taxes levied on Oak Parkers. So, the Village Board cannot solve the problem alone. With discipled budgeting and fiscal prudence, the Village can contribute to getting the overall tax-related affordability challenges under control, it will require considerable collaboration with the other taxing bodies to address affordability holistically.
The Village can also lead with innovative ideas that address affordability in new ways. Please check out my proposal on community High speed internet access that helps affordability (up to 6% equivalent of average real estate taxes per year) and equity by bridging the digital divide.
What life experiences do you have that give you the capability to serve on the village board and to guide staff through complicated times?
I combine the problem-solving skills of an Engineer and the business savvy and fiscal discipline of an experienced business person with an MBA to address our most pressing challenges.
- Fiscal responsibility developed through business leadership and board decision-making experience
- Experience as an immigrant, working with diverse groups to find common ground
- Innovative and inclusive solutions that identify and balance seemingly opposing priorities (in the case of Takeout 25, safety and economic recovery)
- Understanding of the interrelated issues of affordability, taxation and property values as a former renter, and now as a homeowner in OP
- Community service orientation and sustainability focus reflected in my service on the OP Energy and Environment Commission and the Ad Hoc Climate Action Planning Team
I believe the strength of my ideas and the depth of my personal and profession experiences positions me well to serve Oak Park through these complicated times. I know I can help move Oak Park forward through inclusive, visionary solutions.