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Liliana Bakhtiari is running for Atlanta City Council District 5.
Candidate website: www.lilianaforatlanta.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: I am currently a full time candidate. Locally, I have worked for Planned Parenthood Southeast, Partners for Home, and Pro Georgia. I served on the boards of the Grant Park Neighborhood Association, PEDS, Victory Fund, and gloATL. I have recently collaborated with East Atlanta Kids Club, Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, and LifeSouth. And I currently serve as a curator of the Atlanta-based art organization Black Futures Matter, while also serving on the boards of Georgia Equality and Blue Neighbors.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: The top issue facing our neighborhoods is affordable housing. As someone who has experienced housing insecurity firsthand, I understand better than anyone how vital accessible and affordable housing is to the overall health of not only our individual neighbors, but our city as a whole. We’re currently building at a 20,000 unit deficit, which has led to skyrocketing housing costs and a lack of diversity in housing stock. We must build more diverse housing options so that we can equitably house Atlanta’s growing population without sacrificing our unique urban form. As our next Councilmember, I will advocate for streamlined permitting processes for projects meeting affordability criteria, increased density along major transit corridors, incentives like density bonus programs and linkage fees, and continued partnership with organizations like the Atlanta Land Bank and Partnership for Southern Equity. These approaches will help us maintain neighborhood character while addressing urgent housing needs.
Q: How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
A: True affordability is about more than housing. Long-term, sustainable solutions must have a holistic approach for Atlantans at all income levels. As our next Councilmember, I will expand workforce housing so that our first responders and city employees can afford to live in the communities they serve. I’ll advocate for a housing-first approach for our unsheltered population, with low-barrier shelters, housing placement programs, and wrap-around services that support long term stability. I will continue to fight for a $15 minimum wage within the City of Atlanta by lobbying the state to end its preemption laws. I will partner with APS and our Labor community to expand our Youth Builds and apprenticeship programs so that we are setting kids up for success. And I will work to create new pathways for wealth building so that we can bolster economic mobility for small business owners, first-time homeowners, and legacy residents alike.
Q: City Hall has been dogged by an apparently ongoing federal investigation involving accusations of corruption in the previous mayoral administration. How would you help restore public trust on matters of staff spending and contract procurement?
A: The City of Atlanta has made progress toward restoring integrity through the hiring of the City’s first Inspector General in 2020, and by requiring all councilmembers to publicly disclose their office finances in order to serve as committee chairs. If we hope to continue winning back public trust, we must continue to deepen transparency and demonstrate competency with City spending. As our next Councilmember, I will push to prioritize transparency in our City procurement and contract bidding processes and expand the scope of our Inspector General’s power by granting them real subpoena power. 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. I intend to lead by example, by publicly sharing my office budget and will recuse myself should I encounter a conflict of interest.
Q: In 2020, Atlanta and the nation experienced two historic events: the COVID-19 pandemic and protests about racial justice and police brutality. What is a public-policy lesson you learned from those events?
A: The biggest thing I learned from 2020 is how ill-prepared we are for any type of crisis in Atlanta, and how often that leads to the threat of State takeover rather than intergovernmental collaboration. Last year, we watched as the State brought in a massive military presence in response to protests, and we watched the State fumble with an inadequate COVID response. We witnessed our current City government use our ARP funds to plug holes in our FY21 and FY22 budget due to a lack of foresight and no “rainy day fund.” Amidst the continued COVID pandemic and recovery process, we must change the culture of our City to a proactive rather than reactionary model. With increased incidences of extreme weather, incoming refugees from both unrest and climate change, and as an international city, we need to be prepared moving forward with crisis plans, proactive planning, and sustained financial competency.
Q: The debate about the location of a public safety training center is an example of longstanding tension over whether Atlanta’s urban planning should be more top-down from corporations and private groups or more bottom-up from communities and neighborhoods. What is your approach to planning processes and is there a specific change you would make?
A: As our next Councilmember, I will always put community input first. While our planning department does an amazing job, I would advocate for flipping the current model on its head, and empowering the neighborhoods to pilot their own neighborhood master plans. In order for this model to work, we will need full community buy-in. The NPUs and Neighborhood Associations cannot be the only source of community engagement for our neighborhoods. We need to be sure that we proactively meet people where they are. That’s why as our next Councilmember, I will continue a door-knocking program year round to keep a pulse on the needs and opinions of our neighbors who cannot make it to regular meetings. I will also establish quarterly town halls and a participatory budgeting structure for my office in order to allow and empower all neighbors to participate in how their community develops.
Q: Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
A: No– while I recognize the need for updated facilities for our first responders, and plan to advocate for them, this is not the right location. As we plan for future urban resilience, we must actively protect old growth forests and waterways like the South River Forest. The vote was pushed through for the ground lease before the environmental impact study was conducted– that’s unacceptable. Additionally, I object to the lack of transparency around the site selection process, the lack of community engagement not just with Atlanta citizens but also with the predominantly BIPOC neighbors of the property, and the false sense of urgency fueled by calls for this facility to address crime. The facility will take years to build; it is not the answer to current crime waves. I support finding an alternate location or funding updates to current facilities, but I cannot support the current proposal for Key Road.
Q: Who is the main expert you turn to for information on understanding and addressing crime and what is an important fact you have learned from them?
A: I do not believe any one person has the answer, especially with an issue as complex as crime. Rather than just one expert who I turn to, I have a network of experts who teach me something new every day. Some of those experts include: Gina Pagnotta of Professional Association of City Employees who has briefed me on the issues facing our 911 responders; FireFighter Alex Hofstadter who keeps me up to date on our fire department; Moki Macias of PAD, who has brought data to the table around alternative models for policing and community care, and who shared her vision for an Atlanta Diversion Center; Marshall Rancifer who has taught me the value of outreach to our unsheltered community and forming community trust; and so many more. All of these perspectives have helped me to form a holistic view of not just crime, but of true public safety for all.
Q: What are some areas of opportunity for the mayor’s office to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
A: There are three primary avenues I would push our next Mayor to pursue in partnership with APS. The first is addressing the quality of life issues that directly impact our most under-resourced kids by tackling food accessibility, expanding broadband access, and ensuring that all of our kids have a roof over their head. Which brings me to number two: land for affordable housing. Through partnership with APS, we can use their unoccupied land to expand affordable housing options not just for our students, but also for our teachers so that they can afford to live in the communities they serve. And third, I would advocate for a partnership between the City, APS, and our Labor community to provide access to skill-trade and vocational education beginning in middle school. Through early access to career pathways, we can cut into the school to prison pipeline and set our kids up for success.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: There are a lot of urgent issues facing our city that we did not cover here. From climate resiliency to transit, from infrastructure to basic city services. It is a lot, but as our next Councilmember, you can trust that I will work hard every day to serve our neighbors. Together we can tackle our equity gap – the largest in the nation. We can make all of our neighborhoods safer and more affordable, regardless of zip code. And we can build a more inclusive Atlanta, where everyone has the opportunity and the resources they need to thrive. I will never say that I am the solution, but I do believe that I can be part of the solution. As our next councilmember, I will always be accessible, I will work to build new partnerships needed to start getting things done, and I will never take serving this incredible city for granted.