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Lake Oswego City Council candidates address diversity and climate-related issues.

As tensions run high on a national level this election season, serious issues including diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and climate change trickle down locally as well.

With three Lake Oswego City Council seats up for grabs this election cycle, Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism group and the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network found it important to ask council candidates Rachel Verdick, Massene Mboup, Melissa Fireside, Emma Burke and Aaron Rapf the hard-hitting questions surrounding these two matters.

The two organizations hosted a City Council candidate forum Oct. 14 on the heels of a mayoral forum.

Recent Lake Oswego High School graduate Ella Feathers and Lake Oswego High School senior Barbara Chen moderated the event that lasted just under two hours.

The City Council candidates tackled a variety of questions surrounding DEI and the environment, and participated in a lightning round where four questions were presented and the candidates could answer with either a "yes" or "no."

"The City Council plays a key role in charting course for our city. This includes fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all community members," said RTR founder Willie Poinsette. "We're very fortunate to have so many candidates who have a passion for making Lake Oswego a great place to live."

The first question was about actions candidates would take to support the city moving toward becoming carbon neutral.

Fireside said the city has a major opportunity to improve intercity transit.

"We are a car-dependent city, but wouldn't it be so fantastic if we could get on a continuous route that connected our whole city?" Fireside said. "We can have city walk days. We can have opportunities for people to use our routes and really invest in that way because we could have a more interconnected city that way."

She also noted that partnering with regional leaders could help expand knowledge on how to move forward with respect to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mboup agreed with the idea of an intercity bus and credited the city's work ratifying the Climate Action Plan. He said it's fundamental to have better walking and biking paths as well as safe routes to schools.

"If people can live where they work, we would be able to reduce the carbon footprint," said Mboup, adding that it's important to protect the city's trees, improve local bus shelters and to recycle construction waste. "It's one of the carbon footprints we need to work on — it's very important."

Rapf said through his career he has access to a deep, worldwide sustainability network and would use that connection. He cited that increasing electric vehicle charging stations all over the city, improving roads and pathways, and giving students incentives to walk and ride their bikes to school are ways to start combating climate change right now.

"Rubber hits the road when we can break down those long-term goals into achievable short-term goals," Rapf said. "I'm not one to sit around and let goals sit on the shelf."

He added that it's important to also partner with neighboring cities to pull resources together.

Verdick said a quick action the city could take is to add more bus shelters and connect the city by adding more paths, trails and safe routes to schools.

"I would love to look into different possibilities for how we can commute from Lake Oswego to Portland," Verdick said. "Is there a boat commute possibility? Is there something other than a bus?"

She also said the city should lead efforts to empower city employees about decisions they make in their everyday jobs to be more green and to partner with regional partners to make a powerful initiative to be a leader in sustainability.

Similarly, Burke cited the importance of creating bus shelters and strengthening relationships with neighboring communities as well.

Burke said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she's noticed more people who are reluctant to participate in group rides or ride-sharing alternatives.

"I think we also need to (keep) in mind what's going on in our culture currently as well as those long-term strategies so we can do what's best for our community," Burke said.

Another question candidates tackled related to Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). It asked what they would do to support and retain BIPOC in the community, knowing that at times people have left the city because of harassment, racism in schools and other racially charged incidents.

Burke mentioned that the city needs to further plug into resources and relationships. She said that at one of the city's elementary schools, there's about 20 languages spoken, which shows Lake Oswego has a rich community with different ethnicities. But for diverse students to stay in school, she said, the school system needs to embrace the differences and come together.

Verdick said that in order to make positive and significant change, the community needs to acknowledge systemic racism and its implications in order to make sure people can live in an equitable society. She said it's important to listen to people and that it would be a good idea for the city to sign onto the Obama Foundation's "mayor pledge" to review policing. She said this would force the community to engage, share stories and report findings and feedback and then to reform as necessary.

Rapf said the city must make DEI a permanent lens when it comes to decision-making and to ensure children are being educated about history or Oregon in schools. He also mentioned the importance of attracting diverse business owners and hiring diverse teachers that represent the community of children so kids don't have to spend their young lives not seeing a teacher who looks like them.

Mboup said he's a candidate of love and hope, and would like to share his lived experiences and be part of the solution.

"The city of Lake Oswego is trying to do some good stuff on DEI," said Mboup, adding that he's a member of the city's DEI Task Force, which currently is reaching out to the BIPOC community to listen to their narratives. He added that continuing to create a space for others to share their experiences is important.

Fireside said people need to acknowledge and embrace the history of Lake Oswego. She said if citizens don't understand where the city's been, then they will not understand where the city can go. She said it's important to deconstruct a system that has blocked marginalized people so that city is, in fact, for everyone. Fireside added that she works on the Racial Justice Subcommittee of Clackamas County and there are specific policy goals that can be made to target and support people in need, but if the city is not committed as a whole to ensure people feel safe and supported, then it's not going to "move the needle."

During the lightning round, all candidates answered "yes" to supporting a permanent DEI board and the publishing of demographic information regarding police stops on a quarterly basis.

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