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Candidate Q&A – Atlanta City Council District 5 candidate Liliana Bakhtiari

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Candidate Q&A – Atlanta City Council District 5 candidate Liliana Bakhtiari

April 30, 2017. Atlanta, GA. Liliana Bakhtiari, candidate for Atlanta City Council District 5. Photo by Michael A. Schwarz
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Editor’s note: Decaturish and the Tucker Observer have published an Elections Guide, a 76-page e-edition featuring Q&As with nearly every candidate running in our communities. To see it, click here. This special e-edition features candidates running for public office in Decatur, Avondale Estates, Atlanta City Council District 5, Clarkston Tucker and Stone Mountain.  There is a PDF version of this, which you can see by clicking here, but due to the format of this e-edition, we strongly encourage you to use the e-reader version.

Decaturish provided each candidate in our local races with a series of questions about local issues. Here are the answers of Atlanta City Council District 5 candidate Liliana Bakhtiari. The answers have not been edited. 

1)      Why are you running for this office?

I am running NOW because the issues facing our community cannot wait. Our neighbors are losing their homes due to predatory buying/lending and a lack of affordable housing policy. The direct services offered to our unsheltered populations are falling short. Our seniors feel forgotten and unsupported, and our infrastructure is crumbling. Plus there is a huge lack of creativity and political will with public transportation and sustainability practices. I am passionate about proactive solutions for a more affordable, equitable, and accessible city for all of our residents, and I am excited to get to work.

2)      What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?

My greatest strength is that I have experienced many of the hardships facing our neighbors first hand. I have experienced homelessness and housing insecurity; I have lost loved ones to violent crime; I have experienced workplace discrimination. All of these lived experiences will directly translate into the policy I put forward as our next councilmember. Additionally, I am the only candidate in the race for District 5 with established intergovernmental relationships and non-governmental relationships that can help move us forward where we have so often stalled as a city. As our next councilmember, I will actively work to close the silos between our city departments, and will leverage my relationships with APS, County Commissions, State Offices, and Federal Offices to make substantive change.

3)      If elected, what are your top two or three priorities?

My top three priority areas are affordable housing, public safety, & green/resilient infrastructure.

4)      In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing Kirkwood and East Lake?

The two biggest issues facing Kirkwood and East Lake are public safety & affordability housing. These issues are very closely intertwined. As our housing crisis escalates, desperate neighbors are turning to desperate actions. What we’re doing isn’t working and we need both short-term tactics and long-term solutions to address the root causes of poverty and violent crime, so that every member of our community can feel safe and supported regardless of zip code.

5)      What is your current opinion of the Atlanta Police Department and are there any changes you would advocate for if you are elected?

The Atlanta Police Department is severely understaffed and overburdened by jobs they should not be handling. As our next councilmember, I would advocate for diversifying our public safety response teams to include 24-hour mental health and poverty response, an unarmed dedicated traffic team, as well as a dedicated team to pursue repeat violent offenders. Additionally, I would advocate for transparency around the police budget so that the public can better understand how their funding is being spent, because in order to promote community safety we must start with community trust.

6)      Violent crime has increased in the city of Atlanta. What should the police department be doing to get crime under control and how do you balance that against calls to reform police departments around the nation?

With the number of homicides surpassing 100 this year alone, we need both short-term tactics to address the spike in violent crime and long-term solutions to address the root causes of crime overall. Short term, we must hit our staffing targets, and focus our resources on repeat offenders and violent crime response. Long term, we must diversify our public safety response teams to include un-armed traffic enforcement and non-emergent response teams for mental health and poverty response, require de-escalation training for all officers, and address recidivism through social programs, wrap around services, and diversion programs.  As our next Councilmember, I will fight to strengthen step increases for our first responders and address attrition rates to keep officers in the communities that they serve. I will insist on new de-escalation training to decrease incidents of excessive force, circumvent unnecessary arrests, and limit militarized tactics. I will work with organizations like PAD (Policing Alternatives and Diversion) to expand and diversify our public safety operations into a fully formed Public Safety Department, including a 24/7 mental health and poverty response team with specialized training. I will push for the creation of a Diversion Center in place of the Atlanta City Detention Center that can divert non-violent individuals out of the criminal justice system and provide them with the resources they need. Finally, I will work directly with the community to develop a plan for community care that gives agency to our neighbors and decreases the need for police presence over time.

7)      Racial justice and diversity have been points of conversation over the last year. What will you do to promote racial justice and diversity in the city of Atlanta?

Racial justice and diversity starts with diverse representation. By bringing diverse perspectives to the table in policymaking, we can address systemic issues more equitably. As our next councilmember, I will remain committed to equity through proactive policy that will help each neighbor thrive, regardless of their situations. I will work to make each policy decision with our most marginalized communities in mind; I will focus our city resources on BIPOC and low-income communities who traditionally have less access to amenities, job opportunities, and even housing; And I will fight to broaden accessibility to our under-resourced neighbors through proactive outreach strategies and by meeting people where they are.

8)      What do you think of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps do you think the city should take to help reduce the spread of the virus?

Unfortunately, the city’s COVID response was greatly hindered by our Governor. I was grateful to Mayor Bottoms for standing up and creating a mask mandate, but as the largest city in the state with the greatest economic impact, we can leverage that power to do more. As our next councilmember, I will work to ensure that our frontline workers receive the back pay and hazard pay that they deserve with the remainder of the city ARP funds, I will continue to promote vaccination and testing through my own office as well as in collaboration with our state and county partners, I will work with local organizations to invest in innovative wastewater surveillance tactics to help us predict outbreaks, and I will work to build a coalition with other large cities to lobby the state for the release of more state ARP funds, and more responsive strategies based on case and transmission data.

9)      Affordable housing continues to be a challenge for people moving to Atlanta. If elected, what steps would you take to promote affordable housing?

While Atlanta is rapidly growing, we are currently building at a 20,000 unit deficit for affordable housing. That’s unacceptable– it’s time to stop talking around the issue and take real action to create more affordable and stable housing for every Atlanta resident. We need to proactively work to increase the number of units of affordable housing in Atlanta, as well as diversity of housing options to address the missing middle. As our next City Councilmember, I will fight to adjust our inclusionary zoning policy,  eliminating loopholes, adjusting Area Median Income affordability standards, and pushing for cost-protected permanently affordable units. I will also fight to make sure we build more density along transit corridors and right of ways, and expand soft density opportunities through Accessory Dwelling Units and R5 zoning. And I will fight for Community Benefit Agreements and tax protections for legacy residents so that folks on the margins can benefit from development rather than get edged out by it.

10)   Do you think Atlanta has done enough to promote safety for cyclists and pedestrians and, if not, what changes would you like to make?

No, Atlanta has not done enough to promote safety for cyclists and pedestrians. As our next councilmember, I will advocate for sidewalk maintenance and expansion to be reclaimed by the city and bundled with roadway resurfacing projects in order to expedite their expansion. I will advocate for complete street design including expanded ADA accessibility, bike lanes, and crosswalks along all of our major corridors. And I will aim to use NEPA categorical exclusions in order to expedite specific bicycles and pedestrian infrastructure projects so that those projects are not held up.

11)   If elected, how would you work with Atlanta’s School Board to prepare for future growth in the city of Atlanta?

Fortunately, I already have a history of working closely with APS. Over the last few years, I have worked closely with the Director of Partnerships to bring in organizations like BARR (building assets reducing risks) who specialize in providing additional assistance to teachers, identifying at-risk youth, and closing the opportunity gap between black and white students. My goal as a council member is to continue this working relationship and strengthen it, and assist in bringing additional partnerships to the table to assist our students with quality of life issues.

12)   What is your opinion of Atlanta’s current mayor and who will you be supporting in the upcoming mayoral election?

I look forward to working with whoever is elected as the next Mayor. We need to ensure a good working relationship between Council and the Mayor’s office, and I am ready and willing to work with anyone who may be elected. And I wish Mayor Bottoms the best in her future endeavors.

13)   What in your view could be done to make city of Atlanta’s government more transparent and responsive to the people it serves? 

With a history of corruption and inconsistent delivery of city services, it is no wonder Atlantans are losing faith in their local leaders. As our next councilmember, I will push to broaden public disclosures, and work to establish a transparency mechanism for the city checkbook so that citizens can see how their tax dollars are being spent. And I will establish a closed-loop system for city services so that it is easier to track and manage your city work requests. Within my own office, as our next councilmember I will opt for a participatory budgeting model, and will share my office spending publicly, even in the absence of a formal requirement. And I will personally continue proactive public engagement through forums and year round field programs so that our city government stays accessible to all of our residents.

14)   What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength? 

Atlanta’s greatest strength is our incredible network of communities. We have a diverse, and engaged community that consistently mobilizes to lift each other up. From Neighbor in Need to Free99 Fridge, our neighbors are always finding ways to support each other which is inspiring and unique to Atlanta.

15)   What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?

Atlanta’s biggest challenges are complacency and apathy. Complacency in our city government, and apathy within our communities.

16)   How would you address what you believe to be Atlanta’s biggest challenge?

As our next councilmember, I will personally work to promote a new culture on city council, with a new level of work ethic and proactive policy making rather than acting as a passive vote. Additionally, I will work to actively engage our residents, to empower them and re-establish public trust to counteract apathy.

17)   What is your opinion of MARTA and if elected what will you do to promote transit in the city of Atlanta?

MARTA needs more oversight and transparency, especially if we hope to receive federal dollars from the Biden infrastructure bill. As our next councilmember,  I will advocate for all city appointments to the MARTA board to be vetted by the Office of the Inspector General and voted on by the full City Council. And I will work to establish clear benchmarks for the More MARTA program complete with an accountability framework that enables enforcement. Additionally, I will push for a multi-modal vision of connectivity for our city through increased and streamlined bus access as well as Beltline Rail initiatives, which can both help us solve our last mile problem. And I will work to reduce parking requirements along transit corridors, and increase pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to encourage alternative transit usage.

18)   If you are elected, what will you do to support the business community in the city of Atlanta?

Amidst this new COVID-19 surge, it is crucial that we have strategies in place to support the hardest hit industries that drive our city and state economies through innovative relief tools, stimulus funding and improved communication. For our hospitality industry, this means securing and continuing to attract economy bolstering events, like the potential FIFA World Cup in 2026. For our food service industry, that means streamlining permitting processes and waiving license fees as they recover, expanding outdoor dining capacity through parklet programs and reduced parking requirements, and permanently extending alcohol sales for off-site consumption. And for our arts industry, we must create and sustain artist grant programs and bolster arts venues that not only drive our cultural competency as an international city, but also our economy with an average ROI of $4 for every dollar invested. As our next councilmember, I will seek to expand accessibility to the SBA’s Emerging Leaders Initiative to directly support our small business owners and provide them with new tools to succeed. I will commit to the expansion of our City’s existing grants for BIPOC and legacy owned businesses, and will work with neighborhood leaders to expand our Main Street program to support small businesses within our neighborhood commercial districts, distributing economic access throughout the city. As our next councilmember, I am committed to strengthening economic development tools that catalyze private market investment, attract new jobs, and protect and procure local funding for community development.

19)   If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government?

Yes, as our next councilmember I promise to conduct myself in an ethical and transparent manner. I will work to promote ethics and transparency through participatory budgeting for my own office, as well as sharing my office spending publicly. I will work to implement a benchmark system for city projects so that we can better monitor budgetary spending and ensure that projects are completed using the money that is earmarked for those projects. I will also push new limits for campaign contributions from city contractors to city officials and will work to make the procurement process more transparent. And I will advocate for new public disclosure policies of all potential conflicts of interest during city contract bids, and will work with the City Clerk and State Ethics Commission on new election guidelines limiting political contributions from city contractors.

More information about voting in the Nov. 2 election: 

All elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com.  

Election Day is Nov. 2. Early voting will begin on Oct. 12 and will end on Oct. 29. The voter registration deadline is Oct. 4. To register to vote, click here.

To see a list of important dates in the 2021 election year, click here.

Voters in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for an absentee ballot as of Aug. 16. 

To apply for an absentee ballot:

— Visit the Georgia Secretary of State website.

—  Complete the absentee ballot application using the state’s official paper form. Use black or blue ink only.

Applications can be mailed to the county elections office at this address: DeKalb County Election office, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032-1239.

Applications can also be submitted by fax, 404-298-4038, or email, [email protected]

Voters may send an absentee ballot request for multiple people who live in the same household in the same envelope or email.

If an absentee ballot is not mailed to you, call DeKalb Elections office, 404-298-4020. You may still vote in person, either early or on Election Day.

An absentee ballot application must be received by Oct. 22.

In accordance with SB202, a new voting bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in March, a copy of a voter’s ID is required to apply for an absentee ballot. A Georgia driver’s license, Georgia state ID, Georgia voter card, U.S. Passport, U.S. military ID, employee ID issued by any branch of the federal or state government, tribal ID, or a document verifying a voter’s name and address – including a paycheck, utility bill, or bank statement – are accepted forms of ID.

Early voting begins Oct. 12 and ends Oct. 29. The hours for early voting are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be weekend early voting on Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Call your elections office for hours.

Beginning Oct. 12, you can participate in early voting at the following locations: 

– Bessie Branham Recreation Center (2051 Delano Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30317)

– Lynwood Recreation Center (3360 Osborne Road NE, Brookhaven, GA 30319)

– Berean Christian Church – Family Life Center (2197 Young Road, Stone Mountain, GA 30088)

– DeKalb Voter Registration & Elections Office (4380 Memorial Drive, Suite 300, Decatur, GA 30032)

– Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library (5234 LaVista Road, Tucker, GA 30084)

– Stonecrest Library (3123 Klondike Road, Stonecrest, GA 30038)

– County Line-Ellenwood Library (4331 River Road, Ellenwood, GA 30294)

– Dunwoody Library (5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road., Dunwoody, GA 30338)

For the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding early voting times and locations, visit Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com or call 404-298-4020.  

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