Democrat candidate for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioner
Education: I received a BA in Sociology and a BA in International Race Relations from Pitzer College and a Masters in Urban Planning and Public Policy with a focus on Economic Development from University of Illinois at Chicago.
Occupation: I have worked on policy in the non-profit sector for the last fifteen years. I am the Director of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, a grassroots multiethnic coalition of community organizations advancing racial and economic justice policy.
Home: Skokie, Ill.
Previous Political Experience: Elected delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. I serve on the state's Racial Profiling and Data Oversight Board and Asian American Employment Plan Council. I serve on the Village of Skokie's Environmental and Sustainability Council. I sit on the Board of the Woods Fund of Chicago and the Asian American Action Fund of Greater Chicago. I am a member of the Niles Township Democratic Organization and the Skokie Caucus Party.
Responses to our questionnaire
Q: Evaluate the current performance of the MWRD.
MWRD is a $1.4 billion agency that has maintained a solid bond rating and financial footing, which is important for taxpayers. Their recently negotiated employee pension package provides greater long-term stability as well. The board is doing exciting work under the leadership of a new Executive Director. The board just passed the Watershed Management Ordinance—a huge step forward in addressing the county's stormwater management issues and increasing green infrastructure. Disinfection is beginning—at far less cost than initially estimated. And the agency is moving forward with nutrient recovery including phosphorous removal which will improve our water quality and provide new revenue opportunities for the district. I would like to see ways that the District could reduce the number of lawsuits it becomes involved in, which often result in large penalties having to be paid out.
Q: Explain why you are qualified to be a commissioner and three specific initiatives you seek to accomplish during your term in office.
As an urban planner, I bring my knowledge in regional development, land use and infrastructure planning to help protect our water on the supply side. As a community organizer, I bring my grassroots relationships across the county and my background in community education to engage communities in local solutions for water preservation to reduce demand and waste. My priorities are Clean Water: We must protect our lakes and rivers for this generation, and the next. Green Jobs: We must invest in green jobs and innovation that provides prevailing wages. Flood Prevention: We must develop local green infrastructure to protect our homes from flooding. Fairness: We must establish reforms, support women/minority owned businesses and protect project labor agreements
Q: Describe in detail your conservation credentials.
I am an urban planner and environmentalist. I have been an environmental and social justice activist for decades. My first environmental justice campaign was fighting incinerators disproportionately located in communities of color in Oakland, California near my home. In high school and college I was part of campaigns to support using less toxic products and better working conditions in nail salons and sweatshops where workers are disproportionately Asian immigrant women. When I moved to Chicago I worked for the Applied Research Center in the Center for Neighborhood Technology building. A lot of my work was influenced by working on the second floor next to CNT's transportation department. Since, I have worked on a number of transportation equity campaigns. These included campaigns to defend and increase public transportation in low-income communities of color like the Blue Line in Pilsen, the Pink Line in Little Village, and the Red Line on the south side. I have also worked with Enlace Chicago, one of United Congress' member organizations, to expand green space like community gardens and pocket parks in the Little Village neighborhood.
Q: Does the Watershed Management Ordinance that takes effect in 2014 sufficiently encourage the use of permeable paving and other tactics to conserve water, diminish flooding and enhance habitat? How, if at all, would you seek to amend the ordinance?
The District's Watershed Management Ordinance was a significant step towards establishing standards and incentivizing green infrastructure. This issue is of particular local importance to me, as Skokie does not currently allow for permeable paving of driveways. I believe there is a role for MWRD to play in working with local governments to provide research, best practices and model language to encourage permeable surfaces and other measures that can help us collectively address our stormwater issues locally and countywide.
Q: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the possible re-separation of the Chicago/Des Plaines/Calumet river watershed from Lake Michigan. Do you favor or oppose re-separation?
Reversing the flow of the Chicago River will be a monumental undertaking. Just as changing the direction of the river has produced many unintended consequences including problems with invasive species—so will re-reversing the river. To do this responsibly, we must thoroughly study and plan the best way to do this in consideration of environmental impacts as well as its impact on storm water management, transportation and commerce. This will require the cooperation of agencies and leaders at all levels of government. MWRD should play a leading role in the development of any plans, to guarantee protection of our water resources and prevent additional flooding.
Q: The Deep Tunnel project is behind schedule and thus far has cost more than $3 billion. What more, if anything, should the MWRD do to curb sewage overflows into the Chicago River and, at times, into Lake Michigan? If you propose additional actions, how would you pay for them?
MWRD should continue to work with municipalities, home- and business-owners and all residents to address our stormwater issues. While MWRD cannot mandate or manage any municipal programs, it can be a resource for providing research, educational materials and model language for municipalities to update zoning and construction laws to encourage permeable surfacing and reflect advances in stormwater management and environmental planning. Local infrastructure partnerships like the Foster Tunnel project in Albany Park can help address flooding in areas that experience frequent and severe flooding. And increased education and engagement on issues of water management and local solutions including rain barrels, green roofs, and increased permeable surfaces will help us collectively move forward. While we cannot control the amount of water which falls from the sky, we can, however, take steps to reduce the amount which races through our yards, streets and basements.
Q: Should the MWRD conduct work on private property to reduce flooding and sewer back-ups, perhaps including purchase and removal of homes and other structures?
MWRD will be conducting a comprehensive audit of its landholdings as part of the recently approved consent decree. Assessments of areas that have sever flooding problems could be included in this process to identify areas where this option could be explored. This, however, would have to be done in a manner that is financially sound for taxpayers and respectful to property owners in these areas.
Q: Does the MWRD have surplus land? If so, should it be sold for development, transferred to abutting municipalities, or conveyed to the Forest Preserve District for conservation? Explain.
I do not yet know if the District has surplus lands, but I would not favor selling land for development. Using any surplus land as conservation and wetland development would be preferred. I would, however, support exploring potential partnerships with public, private and non-profit entities interested in developing underutilized land for projects that have significant stormwater and community development benefits.
Q: Given its billion-dollar budget and the huge contracts it awards, should the MWRD have an inspector general or other independent oversight officer?
Q: List all of your relatives, including relatives by marriage, who are on public payrolls in Illinois, and the jobs they hold.
Q: Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you.
While I am of Chinese and Japanese American heritage, I speak Spanish.