From our news partner Northside News:
These questions were written by the Northside Antiracism Group to reflect issues that impact all Northsiders, have been the focus of local organizing and that city alders have power to act on.
Question 1: Environmental Justice
A report from Midwest Environmental Advocates last June showed multiple sites of environmental contamination on the Northside, including on and near the former Oscar Mayer property, where there is planned development by both the City of Madison and private developers. In July, the Common Council adopted the Oscar Mayer Special Area Plan (OMSAP) with a commitment to “address racial justice and social equity during the OMSAP redevelopment process which must include assessing and preventing human exposures to toxic chemicals at the site and/or released from the site among all people and particularly at-risk low income people and people of color.”
As the Northside sees much needed development of affordable housing and other projects, what actions will you take through the City to identify and clean up environmental contamination, including on and near the former Oscar Mayer property?
The full report from Midwest Environmental Advocates is available at northsidenews.org/thetransparencyproject.
Question 2: Community Safety
Like many communities across the country, Madison saw an increase in gun violence in 2020 as widespread unemployment exacerbated income inequality, and inadequate social services failed to meet the basic needs of individuals and families experiencing economic and social stresses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Uprisings for racial justice also spotlighted the ways that our systems of policing and incarceration uphold racism and create and worsen racial disparities. Rather than reducing violence, these systems enact violence and cause harm.
What does it mean to you to take a trauma-informed approach to violence? Instead of reacting through the criminal justice system, what proposals, programs or services would you advocate for to proactively support families and prevent violence?
Question 3: City Budget
The City of Madison budget shapes priorities and programs for years to come. Right now, public engagement takes place at the end of the budgeting process, after the mayor and city staff have written a draft based on previous years. Community members and alders are left to react to the budget, rather than proactively shaping it.
What would you do to make the City of Madison budget process more participatory and to ensure that diverse community members have power to shape budget priorities?
Question 1: The soil and groundwater contamination at the former Oscar Mayer and Hartmeyer sites, the former Burke Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the Dane County Regional Airport are serious threats to the health of Northsiders. As District 18 Alder, I have worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, county supervisors, Midwest Environmental Justice Organization, and the Safe Skies Clean Water coalition to demand that a full site investigation of PFAS contamination at the airport be completed before the Wisconsin Air National Guard commences any soil disturbance for the multiple construction projects they have planned.
At Oscar Mayer, the current owners have placed restrictions on the kinds of environmental testing the city can do prior to purchasing any land. EPA Brownfields Clean Up Funds could be available to remediate the contamination if the land came under city ownership. However, it’s extremely risky for the city to purchase the property without thorough testing to determine the level and scope of the contamination. I will ensure that any future city approvals for development on that or any other contaminated site be contingent on the state closing their contamination investigations and the remediation of the source of contamination.
Question 2: A trauma informed approach to violence takes into consideration what a person has experienced in their life that has led them to commit an act of violence, rather than simply focusing on what they have done wrong. Instead of viewing someone as anti-social, disruptive, or not engaging, we should understand that they have been triggered. We must understand what someone needs for their healing and care, within the context of the community.
We need to invest in violence prevention. This includes family resources such as spaces for youth to feel safe and to belong with mentoring by adults in the community. Broadening access to mental health and addiction treatment services is crucial. We need a caring rather than punitive response to people exhibiting challenging behaviors. Punitive responses can be re-traumatising and increase the likelihood of future violence.
As District 18 Alder, I helped to develop the Northside Safe and Thriving Initiative and supported it through the city budget process. I also championed the expansion of Warner Park Community Recreation Center to provide a multi-purpose space for youth and exercise studios, allowing for more youth sports activities.
Question 3: Last year I advocated for the council, and by extension the public, to be involved in the budget process before the mayor’s executive budgets were released. I advocated for a more robust schedule of briefings at the Finance Committee, and for the council to hold public listening sessions to invite the community to discuss budget priorities in the spring and summer. However, the overwhelming challenges of COVID-19 put a hold on those plans. I continue to advocate for a more open and participatory process again this year.
Over the past several years the Finance Department has moved to in break down budget information, presenting it in more user friendly narratives and graphics. In addition to council-led efforts, I will continue to partner with diverse community groups to provide educational sessions about the budget. It is a priority for me to increase meaningful community participation throughout the budget process.
Veronica Figueroa Velez
Question 1: Although I am not well-versed in Environmental Science, I understand the importance of maintaining healthy communities through practices that reduce pollution, contaminants, and exposure. I would propose that the city develop a committee of top experts in the field in our state to draft a multi-point plan to identify, assess and execute strategies for cleaning up contaminants and pollution in our city. I would begin by bringing experts in the area of hazardous chemicals to educate families about these issues. I would work with residents and enforcement programs to create strong relationships and encourage best practices for impacted communities.
Question 2: To take a trauma-informed approach to violence means putting the we on wellness and to work successfully in collaboration across sectors to support families. Prioritizing the possibilities and shifting our thinking from what’s wrong with you, to what happened to you. Leverage the strengths and assets we have in our community to move from fixing people to connecting with people. This approach requires us to be self-regulated, have a sense of belonging, and create time for everyone as everyone has something to offer and everyone matters. Lastly, take time to heal, and acknowledge our own trauma, to be able to bring our full selves into helping children and families. I would actively advocate for all schools in our district to become community schools and provide after school programs as well as other basic needs for children and families.
Question 3: Promoting public participation in community spending and decision making should be a priority of any elected official. I would like to see the City of Madison move in this direction. The first thing I would do is get out in the community, meet people, and co-create ideas. Bringing people together is critical; overcome physical distance and engage citizens face-to-face once this pandemic is under control. Enable people to take full ownership of their ideas and empower them by providing the tools to develop leadership skills.
Question 1: The Northside needs jobs, affordable housing, safe streets and public spaces for all of us to enjoy. We also need redevelopment and investment – and that never comes easy. The report from the Midwest Environmental Advocates highlights the challenges of redevelopment, but one that can be overcome. As your alder, I would fight to make sure public safety is a top priority, including limiting exposure to chemicals or other toxins released from redeveloping any property. I will ensure the city partners, with the state and federal government environmental agencies, follows strict regulations and does what other cities have done in successfully rehabbing former industrial sites.
Oscar Mayer is very special for many reasons. It is not just an abandoned plant that is being redeveloped – it contains many memories for thousands of people who call Madison home. Their parents or grandparents raised their families on the wages earned in that plant through hard work, commitment and a sense of pride. As a union member (Steelworker Local 904), I respect that legacy and want to ensure any use of those space reflect and respect it.
Question 2: The Northside, like much of this city, has seen far too much gun violence and increase in crime recently. There are many causes to this – but it is a problem that cannot be ignored. As a member of the NAACP Criminal Justice Committee, first generation son of an African immigrant and father to three African America youth, I know our system is broken. We do not live in an equitable and just America. The solutions to equality and public safety are not simple, and they cannot be all prevention or all law enforcement – they need to be both.
We need to listen to our community, change drug laws that disproportionately put African Americans and poor people behind bars and fund social services to provide the needed mental illness and drug abuse programs as alternatives to incarceration where possible. We also need to enforce existing laws, not let those who steal cars or shoot off firearms go unpunished. My neighbors tell me that they do not want to defund or abolish the police, but reform how we police. They demand we make the Northside a safer place to raise their families. I could not agree more.
Question 3: The City of Madison budget shapes priorities and programs for years to come. Right now, public engagement takes place at the end of the budgeting process, after the mayor and city staff have written a draft based on previous years. Community members and alders are left to react to the budget, rather than proactively shaping it. Right after I’m in office, I will start working on the budget, based on what my constituents have said their priorities are. I would work with other alders to seek their support so we could work together on a budget based on community priorities. That information would be shared with the mayor and staff when they start working on their budget.