As a Councilmember in the City of Tempe, I am grateful to have the opportunity to bring my passion for a healthy community, social justice, and sustainable living to the public-policy arena. I also feel fortunate to be surrounded by Council colleagues and city staff that share my values and vision for a compassionate and innovative Tempe.
I fear that, in today’s unnerving political climate, it is often easier to focus efforts on change outside of the government structure, as many of us feel that our elected officials, at one level or another, have let us down. I would like to challenge that assumption by highlighting the ways in which municipal governments can help create a healthier, more equitable, and more just community.
My day job at ASU is with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, where I engage the wider community in the Institute’s research, education, and business practices. I first ran for office in 2014, eager to serve as a connector between the University and our City, creating a two-way pipeline of ideas and actions that would advance sustainable solutions.
My first priority upon joining the City Council three years ago was to expand the concept of sustainability beyond a project-based, occasional conversation to a citywide value that infuses our decision-making. I am happy to report that, since that time, the Council has voted unanimously, first to establish a resident-led Sustainability Commission to spark innovation and embrace collaboration and then to create the position of Sustainability Program Manager. Our Sustainability Office coordinates with each city department, providing the vision and expertise to advance issues as varied as increasing our tree canopy, protecting and expanding bike infrastructure, incentivizing water conservation with generous rebate programs, and, in my latest Working Group, constructing a pathway toward 100% renewable energy for our government operations.
Cities also can lead the way and make a real difference in people’s lives in the economic and social justice arena. Recently, the Council voted to fully fund a two-year pilot program providing free, high-quality, all-day preschool for 3- and 4 year-olds living within 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Tempe PRE, the first program of its kind in Arizona, will impact not only the educational outcomes for these children over their entire lives, it will enable working families who cannot afford childcare to pursue their careers while secure in the knowledge that their pre-school kids are with their teachers and classmates.
Tempe is also leading the way on Equal Pay. For two years, I led a Council Working Group developing a comprehensive an Equal Pay Initiative now described by policy experts as the best in the US. We turned from devising a new law and instead reached out to businesses to provide training on pay equity and tools for self-assessment, as well as ongoing free salary negotiation workshops that teach workers to determine their worth in the job market and communicate that worth to prospective employers.
There is no more complicated social issue than homelessness. As homelessness continues to increase across the region, Tempe held a first-of-its kind Town Hall on the topic, joining service providers and policy experts with members of our community eager to learn more about this regional problem and how they could help. Many of the Town Hall participants joined our Homeless Task Force and took part in our yearly Homeless Street Count, to survey the needs of our growing homeless population. With committed staff and residents urging the Council to meet this tsunami of need, the City has greatly increased its investment in homeless prevention and direct services, as we strive to move our chronic homeless population into permanent supportive housing. We have come to learn that homelessness is not just an enforcement issue or a mental-health issue; that it breaks people down on many fronts, and requires a more holistic approach.
While federal and state governments de-fund human services, city government has stepped up to lead, as we seek to wrap our most vulnerable residents in services and support while gently helping them back on their feet. An interdepartmental task force combines staff from Public Works, Human Services, Police, and Fire Medical Rescue with specially trained park officers who strive to connect individuals with housing and healthcare. Our City Manager is looking at expanding this holistic operation regionally and will be hosting a regional meeting with human-services staff and city managers from other Valley cities, in hopes of pooling resources to provide more services and housing opportunities.
Often, when people contemplate their city government, trash collection, roads, or maybe neighborhood parks come to mind. But I believe my role as your Councilmember is to facilitate the best possible quality of life for every resident, help balance the inequities inherent in our society and build resilience for an uncertain future.
Cities like Tempe have the heart and the talent to innovate and, with your help, we can continue to make Tempe the most livable, innovative, and compassionate city in the Valley of the Sun.
Please join me at a “Sustainability Circle” to learn more and to offer your sustainable solutions:
· Tuesday, September 26th – 7 to 8:30pm, North Tempe’s Multigenerational Center, 1555 N Bridalwreath St
· Saturday, September 29th – 10 to 11:30am, Tempe Library’s Connections Cafe
Councilmember Lauren Kuby
City of Tempe