Q&A with Liliana Bakhtiari, Candidate, District 5, Atlanta City Council
(APN) ATLANTA — In our continuing coverage of the City of Atlanta 2017 Municipal Elections, this article presents the questionnaire responses of Liliana Bakhtiari, candidate for Atlanta City Council District 5.
Bakhtiari, who has roots in the progressive community in Atlanta, is challenging incumbent Natalyn Archibong.
While Archibong may not be the most vocal Councilmember, she has the most progressive voting record of any incumbent on the Atlanta City Council, per the Atlanta Progressive News Atlanta City Council Scorecard.
APN recently published Archibong’s responses to the APN Candidate Questionnaire for 2017.
Bakhtiari is a former Board Member of Lost-n-Found Youth, a homeless shelter that serves LGBTQI teenagers; and the founder of Barefoot Gypsy, an organization that was founded to promote telling the stories of survivors all over the world.
A story in Teen Vogue magazine propelled Bakhtiari’s campaign to national attention, although the article gave little insight into Bakhtiari’s positions on City of Atlanta issues.
APN’s Questionnaire focuses exclusively on City of Atlanta issues.
In her responses, Bakhtiari also criticized incumbent Councilwoman Archibong.
“I’m currently running against someone who spent years taking our taxpayer dollars in the form of a regular paycheck and rarely going to committee meeting and work sessions, often skipping public comment, even missing some important votes. I plan on not repeating the mistakes my Councilmember made,” Bakhtari wrote.
Archibong responded to APN that she did not think Bakhtiari’s statements were true, adding that, the last time she checked, she had a 91 percent attendance record at Full Council.
Archibong does have to, at times, leave Council and Committee Meetings to make court appearances in connection with her law practice, although when she does this, it is typically only for a portion of the meeting and not the whole meeting.
Also, Archibong said she used to use the public comment period of Full Council Meetings to deal with constituent issues in her office, although that was because she often had no time to do so in between Committee on Council and Full Council, which are Monday late morning and afternoon, respectively. Archibong is no longer on Committee on Council, and now attends public comment with more frequency.
Archibong declined to comment on any other critiques raised by Bakhtiari, who is the only candidate so far to critique another candidate in an APN Candidate Questionnaire this year.
Bakhtiari’s responses were as follows:
What is your position on the following affordable housing proposals?
Surplus Property Affordable Housing ordinance 17-O-1643. Requiring that surplus city parcels that are suitable for use as housing be sold to nonprofit developers for $1 to develop affordable housing.
I fully and enthusiastically support this kind of legislation. As a longtime homeowner in Grant Park, my partner, Kris, and I frequently discuss what our house would cost in different parts of Atlanta – and as I’m sure most of us know there can be a more than 100% cost differential, sometimes based exclusively on a neighborhood’s supposed “cache.” I’ve spent my entire life in this District – from working at my father’s pharmacy on Edgewood Avenue every weekend growing up, to being a GSU Panther, and now a business owner and homeowner here. The costs of homes in our community matters greatly to me. I believe this legislation would help increase the number of affordable housing units in Atlanta, which is a top priority for me as our next member of Council.
Promoting the production and preservation of units at 0 to 30 percent AMI of the Area Median Income (AMI) across all City of Atlanta policies. This is the income bracket with the greatest and fasting growing unmet need, whereas the recent trend in City housing policies has been to produce affordable units at higher levels of AMI.
I fully support the production and preservation of affordable housing units at 0 – 30% AMI of the Area Median Income (AMI) across all City of Atlanta policies. Atlanta has done a great job of providing luxury housing for 90% of the new builds over the last decade, while losing 5% of our affordable housing units each year since 2012. We desperately need to turn those ratios around, and adjusting the AMI formula is one way to do that. I fully support updating the AMI formulas to protect our most vulnerable neighbors.
Inclusionary Zoning, including as proposed in the Beltline Overlay District by Dickens et al. Requiring that new multi-family buildings include a certain percentage of affordable units, while giving incentives to the developer in the form of upzoning.
I fully support City Council-driven policies like adopting mandatory inclusionary zoning practices for property sales or the transfer of publicly-owned property and developments.
I also support complimentary market approaches to fix the problem like allowing new developments to build on public transit lines without the traditional huge parking lots.
[Editor’s note: Mandatory inclusionary zoning typically refers to requiring a certain percentage of affordable units in new multi-family construction, and typically targets rental units. It is not clear what the candidate means by “for property sales,” as zoning policies generally do not control property sales.]
Adding form of housing payments (ie – Section 8 voucher) as a protected class to be protected from housing discrimination in the City of Atlanta – thus requiring that lessors cannot discriminate against an applicant solely because they have a Section 8 voucher.
I also fully support making Section 8 it’s own protected class regarding housing discrimination laws in the City of Atlanta.
Creating a baseline inventory of Atlanta’s existing affordable housing stock.
I fully support creating a city-led database that would inventory Atlanta’s existing affordable housing stock. I personally believe a large portion of our city’s bad decision making on affordable housing issues has come from lack of readily available information and lack of leadership on the issue.
Those folks directly in charge of committees overseeing affordable housing programs should directly answer for those failures, and the city needs to regroup and double their commitment to finding real, viable, enforceable and achievable answers on this issue as soon as possible.
[Editor’s note: Natalyn Archibong is currently chair of Community Development/Human Services Committee; Bakhtiari appears to be criticizing Archibong here.]
Exploring property tax reforms, including seeking State Legislature to pass enabling laws: (1) to allow lower tax rates based on income; (2) to allow tax breaks for lessors who keep rental rates affordable; and/or (3) to allow tax breaks for nonprofit developers.
I fully support this. I especially support tax freezes for senior and long time residents on a fixed income, so that we can allow our elderly residents the opportunity to stay in their homes.
Offering grant assistance to property owners of aging multi-family apartment buildings, in return for securing promises to keep the units affordable.
I fully support this.
Exploring the increased use of community land trusts;
I fully support this. Given the rising cost of land in this city, which is chasing up the cost of rent and cost of housing, it is imperative to implement affordable housing options for our working families, first responders, teachers, city employees, students, etc. Land trusts are a great option.
The land trust model would allow for the purchase of land and stabilize housing costs, allowing housing to not only be built affordably, but to keep it affordable. There is also evidence that surrounding areas’ value would increase as a result of the land trust.
Increased use of Tiny Houses and accessory dwellings, including appropriate zoning changes;
I’m personally very passionate about updating the city’s antiquated zoning laws to allow for tiny houses immediately. I’m incredibly excited about what they could potentially do for affordable housing, especially in helping our unsheltered population to rebound and become contributing members of our city’s economy. Furthermore, as our affordable housing problem reached crisis, we need to be building affordable housing twice as fast as we have over the past 3 years in order to keep up. These smaller units can be built more quickly, and I would support implementing them almost immediately.
Creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund;
I fully support this.
Use City of Atlanta median for purpose of determining Area Median Income, rather than Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta.
I fully support this.
DEMOCRACY AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
Do you support using general fund revenue to create a public financing campaign system for Municipal Elections, much like the Democracy Voucher program in Seattle, Washington?
I do. I believe that a general fund revenue driven campaign largely takes away the huge advantage long-term incumbent politicians have by handing out contracts to donors and checks to neighborhood groups in election years.
Do you support limiting or prohibiting campaign contributions from individuals doing business with the City of Atlanta, or from individuals employed by entities doing business with the City of Atlanta?
Absolutely. I believe it is on face unethical for elected officials to solicit or take contributions from those doing business with the city or who have proposals before the city.
If appointed Chair of a Council Committee, or if asked as a Committee Member to vote on a public comment policy pertaining to a Council Committee, would you be open to the idea of no time limit for public comments? If not, why not?
I think time limits are a reasonable way to ensure that meeting agendas can move forward. However, I think the city needs to do a better job at providing a space for citizens to provide comment, so I would support a framework that allows for the online submission of questions and comments (which generates a read receipt) so that comments and concerns aren’t ignored.
As a longtime activist in my community and someone who is intimately familiar with lobbying the Atlanta City Council (most recently for pay raises for Atlanta first responders and City Hall employees) I have seen too often members of Council drastically limit public comment or completely dismiss it. I fully believe public comment on legislation to be a foundational component of our democratic process. Having said that, I do not support unlimited public comment.
Just as I have seen members of council misuse their control over limiting public comment time I have also seen other municipalities have their democratic process completely shut down by public filibustering. Reasonable people can agree to reasonable time limitations to make sure everyone has a voice but that the vote is ultimately taken on issues pertinent to our city. What I would like to see is the city do a significantly better job of creating an official and observed place for public input that is not limited to people taking off work or traveling down to City Hall.
As someone who fully supports efforts to make our legislative process more transparent, I plan on implementing a public comments section to all legislation I plan on voting on where a “read” receipt is generated and I can directly respond to any constituents comments on any pending legislation. I also plan on having open and public discussions about bills prior to vote on social media in an effort to constantly solicit feedback from populations that traditionally don’t engage in such civic activities. Furthermore, I am interested in live streaming council meetings that include public comment, so that constituents can more easily “tune in” and join the conversation.
Relatedly, would you allow citizens to make public comment on individual items as they come up on the agenda, or should public comment be restricted to the beginning and/or end of the meeting?
I think it would be significantly more helpful for members of council to hear public input as close as possible to the agenda item. I fully support creating more time for public comment before a specific vote and not at the beginning or end of a full agenda.
Would you support a change to the City Charter allowing the public to comment at Work Sessions? Currently, there is only the right to comment at Full Council and Council Committee.
I do. I understand the arguments against it – that there is a lot of work to be done and public comment slows that down, but frankly I don’t care if the legislative process gets slowed down during planning stages. We need to make more room for public input in this process and not relegate it to one small, token place in the process.
Do you believe Committee Briefings should be videotaped and made open to the public?
Absolutely. I believe transparency improves efficiency and decreases unacceptable behavior by elected officials, including the systemic oppression of certain group. Visibility promotes accountability, which we are severely lacking in City Hall.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Do you support reforming City of Atlanta municipal code to eliminate the possibility of jail time for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis in the City of Atlanta (i.e. – decriminalization)?
Absolutely! The criminalization of marijuana is used disproportionately to target our African American population. Decriminalization is an necessary step toward addressing discrimination and racial profiling in our city’s policing.
Do you support extending bar hours to 4 a.m.?
No, but only because the bar owners in my district have told me they do not support this ordinance. If they did, and we could show that new ride-sharing technologies were actually decreasing DUI’s I’d be all for it.
Do you support the increased use of solar panels and other renewable energy at City-owned buildings?
Absolutely, and I’ve had several very constructive conversations with Atlanta-based companies that do retrofitting on municipal buildings so that we convert them to significantly more energy efficient business models at zero cost to taxpayers. Many officials have cited lack of experience in maintaining these systems as a reason to postpone their installation. Luckily, the majority of these companies offer free or discounted installation, and includes guaranteed maintenance. If we are going to meet the 2035 renewable energy pledge made by city hall this year, we need to be actively pursuing these options.
How should the City of Atlanta change its policies and practices to promote more recycling by residents and businesses?
Our recycling programs are unacceptable in this city. As an avid recycler, I know we are far from leading the way on municipal recycle efforts and I’d like to see us do much more.
I often take my items to organizations like the CHARM Center in order to ensure that they are properly recycled. To my knowledge, our current recycling systems can only handle plastics 1-5, paper/cardboard, and aluminum cans. Generally, the sorting and cleaning of these items is not in the budget and is not supported. Beyond that, there is a lack of education among the population on how to effectively recycle. So often even these items end up in landfill.
I think diversifying our city contracts to include organizations that can handle extra recycling such as glass, as well as compost pickup, coupled with more public education and transparency on these programs, and a much needed update to our current recycling facilities will lead to a drastic reduction in landfill use, as well as increased job opportunities, and a boost to our economy.
Do you believe the City of Atlanta sales tax rate is too high, and would you support any portion of the sales tax rate not being renewed? If so, which portion and why?
They are too high. I would personally advocate for rolling back the regressive sales tax.
Which of the several public transportation projects that have been proposed do you think deserve the highest priority? Current proposals include several MARTA rail line extensions in several directions; the Beltline and various street car lines; and several other projects.
Atlanta lags far behind other cities our size in all three alternative transportation modes. We need better biking, bus and light rail options. While it is hard to prioritize one we already have MARTA expansion money approved and moving, so for fiscal reasons I would prioritize MARTA expansion first.
What is your plan to make Atlanta more safe for pedestrians and to provide Atlanta’s pedestrians with safe passage in the form of sidewalks?
I am an avid biker, and I am well aware that Atlanta ranks as one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians and cyclists. In fact, a dear friend of mine became paralyzed from a auto-bike accident on DeKalb Avenue. The dangers are real and the tragedies are frequent. I believe the first major step forward lies in changing sidewalk repairs from private property owner obligations to city obligations. As well as including pedestrian byways and bike paths in the beginning stages of city planning, rather than saving them for accessory implementation.
Do you support restricting Council Office expenditures to staff and constituent outreach? Currently, some Council offices use their funds to run their offices, while others use some of their funds to allocate grants to pet projects in their district.
Absolutely – I’m currently running against someone with a long list of complaints from residents and former employees on how city funds were spent.
If elected, would you still be employed in any other outside full-time or part-time employment, aside from your salaried position at City Hall? If so, what will that outside employment be?
I’m extremely blessed to have founded and run my own photography business and would plan to continue working on that as my City Hall schedule would allow. My council duties will however, always take precedence. I plan on treating this as a full time job, because I believe that is what is needed to effectively serve my district.
If elected, do you commit to sitting in your chair during the public comment portions of Full Council and Committee Meetings to actually listen to the public?
You can count on it. As I said before, public comment is a hugely important part of the democratic process that cannot, and should not, be forgotten or skipped over.
Do you support linking Councilmember salary to meeting attendance, except in the case of a documented excuse?
Absolutely. I’m currently running against someone who spent years taking our taxpayer dollars in the form of a regular paycheck and rarely going to committee meeting and work sessions, often skipping public comment, even missing some important votes. I plan on not repeating the mistakes my Councilmember made.
DISCLOSURE: Earlier this year, APN’s News Editor received compensation for drafting an ordinance and composing a best practices paper on using surplus city property for affordable housing in the City of Atlanta. Councilman Bond, who introduced the ordinance, supported this research with a modest consulting fee. Councilwoman Archibong matched Bond’s contribution, allowing for additional research and stakeholder engagement on the surplus property ordinance.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2017)