Read At-Large Democratic candidate Erika Almirón's responses to the 5th Square 2019 City Council Candidate Questionnaire. Visit our 2019 City Council Campaign page for more candidate questionnaire responses.
Candidate Name: Erika Almirón
I am a working class woman of color and the daughter of South American immigrants. I have spent over 20 years organizing workers, students, women, immigrants and the poor to fight for their human rights. I am running for city council to make Philadelphia a place where all people have a safe and affordable home, access to a high quality education and a well paying job.
I am the oldest of four siblings. Growing up, my parents, who immigrated from Paraguay, owned a small business and were domestic workers. Everyday when I was a kid I would run home from school, help my mom get my young sisters ready to go and run to the bus stop. We’d then take the bus an hour to my family’s shoe repair shop. If we missed the bus, we waited another hour for the next one. I didn’t know it as a child but I now understand that my family was experience the consequences of an underfunded and unresponsive transit system.
I view land use and public transportation as a means to achieve a more just Philadelphia that works for all of us. I believe that land use and transportation are not separate issues but instead issues connected to the economy, affordable housing and public education. I believe we must change laws and customs around land use and transportation in order to make Philadelphia a more just and equitable city.
1. Many curb cuts and sidewalks in the city are blocked by parked cars, resulting in inadequate and unsafe crossings for seniors, residents utilizing mobility assistance, and parents with small children. In your view, what should City Council do about this problem?
I believe the city needs a cultural, political and infrastructure shift that makes our streets safer and easier to navigate. Blocking crosswalks is unsafe so as a member of City Council I will use my position to advocate for drivers to change their behavior and support public awareness campaigns.
2. What is your opinion of the Kenney administration's progress on their Vision Zero street safety initiative? Is the current pace of progress acceptable to you? If not, what would you do differently? How would you use your Council position to accomplish this?
I am proud that Philadelphia has a Vision Zero policy. Traffic deaths are a needless tragedy and a problem we can solve. I have had to support families in South Philly who have lost loved ones due to traffic death and it is horrifying. One traffic death is one too many. I will advocate for more protected corridors for pedestrians and cyclists, traffic calming measures to protect motorists, cyclists and pedestrians and public information campaigns to change behaviors.
Too often making our streets safer is framed as a culture war between wealthy cyclists and everyone else. As the Executive Director of Juntos, a Latino immigrant rights organization in South Philadelphia, I know how untrue this framework is. Working people rely heavily on bicycles, walking and public transit to get to work while saving money. As a council person I will center street safety as an essential issue. All people deserve to travel the streets safely and free of fear.
3. Will you support “daylighting” intersections to restore clear lines of sight near crossings for drivers and pedestrians through the use of plastic bollards and curb bumpouts, with prioritization for school zones, intersections with high pedestrian volume, and high crash intersections? How many intersections should be "daylighted" each year?
Further reading on daylighting: https://www.streetfilms.org/daylighting-make-your-crosswalks-safer/
Yes. This a cost effective and simple way to make our streets safe. As a city councilperson I would work to make our streets safer. I would consult with street safety professionals about how many intersections should be daylighted and consult with community members about where they are most needed. I commit to ensuring that crosswalks by schools and rec centers are on the priority list of intersections to be daylighted first.
4. Philadelphia has some of the lowest per-capita spending among our peer cities on basic street maintenance, slowing down the rollout of life-saving design changes that are part of Mayor Kenney's Vision Zero initiative. If elected, will you advocate for a larger Streets Department repaving budget?
5. Will you support a Mayoral initiative to create a municipal street sweeping program, even if it means motorists will need to move their vehicles a few times a month?
Yes. I also believe that the city should hire more people who can walk the streets and collect trash. Cleaning crews shouldn’t be reserved only for wealthy areas that can afford to fund improvement districts. Clean streets should be a citywide priority.
6. Will you vote to repeal Council's 2012 legislation requiring a Council ordinance to remove travel or parking lanes, and once again empower Streets Department safety professionals to make these decisions administratively?
Our goal is to shift the city's overall transportation mode share radically toward transit and active mobility, and away from single occupancy vehicles, for the benefit of public health as well as the environment.
1. Philadelphia currently only funds around 11 percent of SEPTA's budget, with the state and federal governments funding the majority of the operating and capital budgets. This is one of the lowest local contributions in the country, per-capita. If elected, will you advocate for increasing dedicated local transit funding? If so, what revenue source is best?
Yes. A fair tax structure is one of the foundations for a just society. As an elected leader I will champion a progressive tax structure that provides relief for poor and working people and call on those who profit the most to pay their fair share. I would focus on restructuring Business Income and Receipts Tax, wage taxes and commercial real estate to increase dedicated transit funding. As an elected official I will also be an advocate in Harrisburg and Washington D.C. for increased funding for public transportation.
2. The City Bus system works to improve air quality as well as reduce traffic congestion. Unfortunately, city bus ridership has fallen dramatically over the past few years, and route performance has become increasingly unreliable. Which of the following measures would you be willing to advocate for to increase bus ridership?
- Bus-only lanes on more major streets Yes
- Automated photo enforcement of bus-only lanes and bus/trolley stopping zones No
- All-door boarding with off-board fare payment Yes
- Free transfers between buses, trolleys, and subways, funded by the City Yes
- Stop consolidation to speed up buses Yes
Other: I have concerns of increased police surveillance in our neighborhoods. The following is a caveat to the question about unarmed officers being used to enforce traffic violations: I am concerned with more enforcement in general on our city because police sometimes use traffic stops and racial profiling as ways to harass many Black and Brown people. I believe we must enforce traffic violations but this does not need to be police. I’d support this force being housed in a different department and should include people who are trained against biased policing practices.
3. Will you support funding a City pilot program to provide free SEPTA transit to all children under 12 years of age?
The current cut-off is 4-years-old, after which children are required to pay the full fare
4. Over 30,000 Philadelphia public school students are currently ineligible for subsidized TransPasses, because the School District does not provide passes to students living within 1.5 miles of their local school. Do you support universalizing student TransPasses so all students can use them?
5. Residential permit parking needs an overhaul. The current cost for an annual parking permit for car owners to store their private vehicles on public streets is just $35, and many streets do not require a permit. Which reforms to permit parking would you be willing to consider, if elected?
- Capping permits at the number of available spaces in each parking district Yes
- Neighborhood-wide opt-in for permit parking, as opposed to block-by-block petitions Yes
- Blacklisting addresses of new buildings with no parking from eligibility for street permits No
- Employer permits for commercial corridor workers near residential permit zones Yes
6. SEPTA and the City are exploring a bus network redesign that could greatly improve bus service frequency and usability at little additional cost. Improving service will involve some trade-offs, however, like more stop consolidation and transfers. How should Councilmembers be approaching this initiative?
Philadelphia’s bus system needs an overhaul that modernizes the system and promotes equity. I believe city council should be advocating for a more efficient system that improves the lives of those most impacted by poverty and disinvestment. I support making SEPTA a more appealing option than cars by capping daily/weekly/monthly fares, eliminating transfer fees, free rides for children under the age of 18 and bringing the regional rail system’s prices and frequency inline with the rest of the system. As city council member I will create opportunities for community input. The challenge will be balancing individual community needs while maintaining a citywide/system-wide view.
7. Do you support Council President Darrell Clarke's Charter change proposal to create a new class of unarmed officers to enforce traffic violations?
Land Use and Zoning
Our goal is to promote the most efficient use of land in our city, fostering accessible, walkable communities in which all Philadelphians can reside, regardless of economic status. We believe in building more housing, reducing costs, increasing the vitality of our commercial corridors, and facilitating transit-oriented development. Philadelphia made great strides toward this vision with the 2012 Zoning Reform package, and the next City Council should defend and expand on that progress.
1. Only 13% of land in Philadelphia is covered by the multifamily zoning categories eligible for City Council’s new Mixed-Income Housing program. Do you believe 13% is the appropriate percentage? If not, what is the right number?
Philadelphia is facing a housing crisis. Over 6,000 people a year are living in places not meant for human habitation. And 15,000 people, including families, access shelters every year. There are thousands of more people couch-surfing and living in unsafe conditions outside of the scope of homeless outreach work. The type of development we currently see in Philadelphia will leave many out of our communities and push those who have built this city out. We’re are rapidly moving toward a Western European model for cities in which the poor are pushed to the outskirts where housing is cheaper but it is harder to access services. All people have a right to the city. 13% is too low and we need to expand multifamily housing as one method of increasing affordable housing options. Multifamily housing should be expanded so that more people can access transportation hubs, areas where there are jobs and social services.
2. In 2012, City Council voted to eliminate or reduce minimum parking requirements for many zoning districts, because parking minimums increase housing prices, driving, and traffic congestion. Will you vote to eliminate the last of the minimum parking requirements still remaining in the zoning code, which would mainly affect Center City, University City, and areas near the subways?
3. The same 2012 zoning reform bill contained language legalizing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which allow property owners to have an additional rental unit on their property. City Council unfortunately never finished the job, and didn't write in which zoning districts should permit ADUs. Where would you allow ADUs?
4. In 2017, City Council revamped the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Overlay ordinance, which would allow greater density and less parking within 500 feet of designated transit stations. Will you support a citywide bill designating TOD overlays for all city transit and regional rail stations?
5. What should be Philadelphia's strategy for keeping neighborhoods affordable as they see more growth and development? Is City policy striking the right balance now, following City Council's recent affordable housing package? If not, what is left to do, in your opinion?
I believe we need to stop subsidizing luxury real estate developers and therefore need to end the 10 year tax abatement. That revenue should go to the school district and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. We need to implement a policy of rent stabilization so that people are not forced from their homes and neighborhoods, in particular those who cannot afford or recieve a mortgage to purchase a home. We need citywide plans for affordable housing that are made with community and professional input. We can’t allow these goals and plans to be scuttled by one individual council member’s preference or connection to a real-estate developer. I think the city should invest in giving technical assistance to individuals and organizations interested in starting housing co-ops and land trusts that preserve affordable housing.