Southern California News Group (SCNG) Endorsement Questionnaire Answers
Where in Claremont do you reside, and how long have you lived in the area you seek to represent?
I have been a renter in south Claremont since 2018, but I have lived in Claremont since I started at Pitzer College in 2011.
Tell us about your qualifications. What in your education, professional experience, community involvement or record in public office makes you the right person for this job?
I first got involved in politics after the death of my mother. She left me a small sum of money, which I dedicated to volunteering on my first presidential campaign in 2007. This led me to work on Barack Obama’s historic presidential campaign in 2008. I enrolled in Pitzer College in 2011 and went on to earn my bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2014. I was an older student so I participated in community activities, including city government, where I built relationships with Claremont community activists and elected officials. I have worked at the national level in presidential elections. I worked as Bernie Sanders’ California State Director in 2016 and served as New Hampshire State Director for Pete Buttigieg in 2019. In 2018, I ran for Claremont City Council.
I am the owner and executive director of Winning Margins, which provides media strategy for nonprofits and educational institutions and grassroots organizing for down ballot candidates across the country, a majority of whom are women and people of color. I also founded and currently serve as president of Community Groundwork, which focuses on training community college students interested in a career in politics and government.
I organized citywide events to bring local government, small businesses and college students to improve city delivery systems. In 2018, I organized a Claremont City Council forum on homelessness in 2018, and this inspired me to run for office. I also volunteered at local Claremont non-profit Uncommon Good, and was a contributor at the Claremont Courier, where I reported on the resilience of the community at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All the while, I have placed my focus on those who have been left out of the political conversation—renters and working families who have needs but have been largely ignored by politicians both local and regional. My campaign has centered people who struggle to live paycheck to paycheck in a city with skyrocketing rent, people of color who feel unfairly targeted by the police and who feel abandoned by the Claremont political establishment, and progressive Claremonters who yearn for actionable change.
Describe yourself politically. Do you call yourself liberal, conservative or something else? Do you have a political hero of the past or present?
Barack Obama was a presidential candidate who inspired me to work in politics. I learned from working on his campaign the importance of centering the experiences of others, and that considering differing perspectives when making tough decisions is a strength, not a weakness.
What are your top three priorities if elected?
Our number one priority will be to steer the city through the COVID recovery. We've seen households lose dual incomes and COVID unemployment benefits. We've seen small businesses shuttered. Our Colleges generated $400 million regionally before COVID - that's no longer the case. Tourism has dried up. Seniors are in lockdown and separated from their friends and families, and living rooms have now become classrooms.
We need an holistic approach to the pandemic recovery, that includes revitalizing our small businesses, making rent affordable for everyone and reimagining community safety. We must restore funding to the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP) and support our homeless population within and outside of Claremont through a scalable, regional program with our city neighbors. These fundamentals will create a more equitable and economically beneficial society for a community on the cusp of real change.
We need a vision for small businesses that is more than just tax cuts. Yes, we need to cut regulations to support small business growth but it’s important to go further. Proposed payroll tax cuts are an illusion that puts workers on the hook to pay it back next year. We need public/private partnerships with the city, the Colleges and the business community to facilitate growth. We also need leadership on the council with deep ties to Claremont and beyond—I am the only candidate with deep relationships at the regional, state and federal level. I will look to these relationships for inspiration to jumpstart Claremont’s economy.
We want to make sure more affordable housing is built close to Claremont businesses so it will be easier for residents to patronize small businesses and increase their revenues. We also want to make it easier to open a business in Claremont by streamlining the costly permit process, saving the city money and making more ministerial decisions as opposed to discretionary.
We also need meaningful reform within the Claremont Police Department. We want to increase implicit bias training citywide, and reveal traffic stop data to look for hidden racial biases among officers. We’ve heard stories about people of color in Claremont being unfairly targeted by police, and that needs to end. We also want to create a partnership with the Claremont Colleges and Tri-City Mental Health to create a first responding team of trained mental health and substance abuse professionals to replace responding police officers, which we believe will lead to a more beneficial interaction from both sides. These steps will reduce the overall budget share to the police department by 20 percent over the next three years. These reforms also have the added benefit of helping the city finally address our longstanding structural deficit.
Communities across the state are grappling with rising pension and other post-employment benefit costs. What do you think needs to be done to deal with this problem?
Claremont was in a good position to pay down its $56.26 million unfunded liability to CalPERS at a quicker rate, but two things happened to slow it down—the failure of Measure CR in 2019 and the global pandemic. Part of our post-pandemic recovery plan, which we will create together with the city, the Claremont Colleges, business leaders and local advocates, is to implement a five-year plan to continue to pay down our liability debt beyond the required payments.
We’re on the hook to pay out the full pensions of city employees who have spent a great deal of time working here, but going further we need to continue to work out contracts with new employees so they pay more into the system. We also need to think of ways to compensate employees with time off and other amenities in lieu of salary increases. In this era of belt-tightening, we need to work together to pay down our debts and save money.
We will keep an eye on the California Rule that protects future but not earned benefits. The Alameda County and CalFire cases have left a legal opening, though small, for pension reform that could impact the future of prospective benefits. We will keep an eye out on future court cases and be prepared with a strategy that reimagines the prospective benefits formula to reduce city costs and is fair for city employees in future collective bargaining agreements.
What's the best way to build more needed housing in Claremont without adversely affecting quality of life in neighborhoods and traffic on the streets?
We need to stop misinformation campaigns that discourage positive and inclusive growth in Claremont.
Not only does more affordable housing mean more opportunities for working families and fixed-income seniors to live and thrive in Claremont, more housing close to the Village or other commercial centers encourages people to walk, ride their bike or take public transportation to where they need to go. It’s all a part of the “15 minute city” idea we proposed—where one can easily reach all their necessities within a 15 minute travel time, regardless of the means of travel. This will cut back on people traveling by car and reduce carbon emissions.
Give us one campaign promise of yours that your opponents wouldn’t make.
We will create an economic development plan that focuses on the needs of Claremonters today and in the future. We will sit with city officials, local activists, business owners and leaders from the Colleges to create a post-pandemic recovery plan. Part of this plan will be restarting the Chamber of Commerce’s gift card program, using coronavirus grant funds to fill those cards with spending money and giving those cards to Claremonters hit hardest by the pandemic. Those cards can then be used at local small businesses across the city.
Another part of this plan will include downsizing the police department’s share of the budget—which is currently over 50 percent—by 20 percent over the next three years. We can use that money to pay for government services, re-fund CHAP and the Chamber of Commerce and expand financial training programs. Think of the current financial literacy programs at the Teen Activity Center and the Senior Center, but for everyone in Claremont. These services will be available to support families and seniors living on a fixed income to maximize their spending power and identify government assistance programs in which they can enroll.
The upcoming Village South development presents an incredible opportunity to provide affordable housing that will encourage young people to stay here and open virtual business hubs. We want to tap into their talents and coordinate their skills with businesses and the city to build technologies that benefit the community from the ground up. In our first year on council, we will re-introduce the citywide hackathon, which will bring in the best and brightest young minds from city government, local businesses, high schools and the Colleges to collaborate on creating technologies that can improve government delivery systems and reduce costs.
Finally, current risk mitigation strategies in Claremont include fires and earthquakes, but not a pandemic. A crucial part of this plan will be to create a plan for the next pandemic, so Claremont will be ready once the next one hits.
One more question: What do you drive? (It’s Southern California -- people care about that!)
I am the proud driver of a small and sensible Hyundai hatchback, in which I have driven across the United States multiple times.