At a community forum on equity, Ward 3 primary candidates Felicia Chew, Paul Durham and Tom Tronsdal spoke to a full house at the Donna R. Liggins Center on the morning of Aug. 5. They shared their views and vision about equity including access to food, transportation and housing. Here is a little of what they had to say.
What does equity mean to you?
As a teacher, a single mother and the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chew said she has experienced inequity. She reads to the audience from carefully crafted, prepared statements, pulling from her life experience. Watching her own mother open a beauty salon was one experience that taught her about what it takes to be successful despite a lack of opportunities.
"To me, equity means giving everyone not only an equal voice but also an equal opportunity to be heard," she said. "Tucson is a wonderful city, but we are not yet an equitable one. I want to change this."
She wants everyone in Ward 3 to have access to affordable transit, good jobs, quality early-childhood education and safe housing.
Durham opens with a joke. He's off the cuff. And he's no friend of Donald Trump.
"Unfortunately, you've got to be both white and rich to be OK these days, but if you're anybody else, you're under attack," he said. "My goal is to make Tucson, not only the most equitable city, but also the most environmentally-sustainable city in the Southwest."
Durham said he first learned about inequality as a child when his father, an elementary school principal, was transferred from a poor school to a wealthy one. Durham saw the difference in parental engagement due to lack or abundance of money and time.
"I knew at 9 years old that there is a tremendous difference between the opportunities we provide the haves and the have-nots," he said.
Tronsdal said his campaign is about engagement and empowerment. He has a son with special needs, and that taught him not all people need the same level of access to opportunities.
"Equity is not the same as equality," he said. "Equality is getting the same number of resources, but equity is about getting equal results for everybody, and some of us need more help than others—more assistance.
What kind of policies should Tucson pursue to assure there is adequate and affordable housing, connected to jobs, transportation, education and healthcare?
Chew said it's important to provide affordable housing across town, so all people have the opportunity to live close to their work. As councilwoman, she would support programs such as Lend a Hand, which provides free services to seniors, and community home-repair programs.
She was able to purchase her own home, close to markets, healthcare, a library and public transportation, with the help of community programs. Communities with special affordable-housing needs are also on her radar screen, such as seniors, people with disabilities and single-parent families.
Decriminalizing and destigmatizing homelessness is also an important issue to her. She would like to do this by creating and enhancing city facilities such as access to toilets, showers and transportation.
Durham expressed concern that a lot of Ward 3 housing doesn't meet basic standards of safety, affordability and energy efficiency. Durham would work to expand the already existing public housing in Ward 3 for elderly, low-income residents.
He also said he wants to step into Karin Uhlich's shoes, the current Ward 3 council member, when it comes to initiatives to end homelessness and working with Ward 5 Councilmember Richard Fimbres' Homeless Task Force.
Tronsdal brought up affordable housing plans in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, as examples of cities that consider available transportation when building affordable housing.
"You need to build housing on major transportation routes," he said. "You need to be on bus routes. You need to be within walking distance of major commercial centers, Pima, the U of A—places where people need to go in order to improve themselves."
He said Tucson needs to encourage new businesses and work with job-training agencies, bringing these services to the areas they're needed most.
How should Tucson address inequitable access to healthy affordable food?
Chew said understanding native desert edibles and invasive species is important to develop "food resiliency programs." The city could education by expanding such programs like Native Seeds/SEARCH and providing resources such as seeds, community garden space and support.
Chew said she would push to create more spaces for farming to support locally sourced business practices, citing the Barrio Bread business, which uses locally grown grain.
Chew also volunteers at the Heirloom Farmers Market, where many vendors accept food stamps. She would work to expand the number of farmers-market vendors who accept food stamps and to bring the markets into more neighborhoods.
She's also a proponent of children learning to garden in school.
Durham said Ward 3 needs more food options, like Tucson Community Supported Agriculture, which brings farm-fresh food to the community at affordable prices. Community gardens are important, and he wants to make sure city regulations don't hamper them, and that they are available throughout the city.
Food deserts are also an issue, and he said the city should use their leverage over supermarket chains to open in neighborhoods that need them. Another endeavor he wants to undertake is providing people with information on community services that provide food, tailored to where they live.
"I don't think people should have to rely on Circle K for their groceries, and I'll do everything I can to prevent that from happening," he said.
Within three miles of where Tronsdale works, he noticed there's no grocery other than a Walmart, although people live in the area. This issue prompted him to work on a Ward 3 economic plan, which includes developing incentives for grocery stores to open in such neighborhoods. The other part of the plan involves outreach to raise awareness and connect people to social services that offer food, such as Market on the Move and community food banks.
What policies or initiative would you introduce to create safe, reliable and affordable transportation options, while addressing equity and disparities?
Transit is a key issue of Chew's campaign, as she relies on public transit to get around. She wants to protect low-income fares and expand the number of bus routes. If elected to city council, Chew would also like to create a dedicated funding source for transportation.
"Without a dedicated funding source, we can not guarantee a consistent level of funding, leaving Tucsonans unsure if their transit will remain available year to year," she said.
She also talked about the importance of green streets and programs that encourage people to use alternative forms of transportation, like The Living Streets Alliance, Cyclovia Tucson and bike shares.
Durham talked about the importance of supporting alternative forms of transportation, by providing two things: actual safety and the feeling of safety. He would support funding the development and maintenance of sidewalks and wider bike-lanes.
He would also like to explore the possibility of the city bus going electric. He said based on Sun Tran data including purchase price, fuel costs, maintenance and repairs, the city would save $100,000 over the lifetime of one electric bus.
He will also look for ways to fund the Bicycle Boulevard Master Plan, creating new bike paths off the main streets.
Tronsdal used public transit to get himself to high school and college. He believes in the importance of maintaining low-income fares for those who need it because, for many, riding the bus is a necessity not a choice, he said.
He's also in favor of expanding bus routes, improving existing bus stops and continuing to fix city roads with plans for bicyclists and pedestrians in mind.
"We have to allow people in the community to walk and ride or take the bus, not just take their car" he said. "If we keep doing that, our community will thrive with people being able to get across town even if they don't have a car."