Councilor Sam Yoon attended the Candidate Forum that took place on Monday, August 3, 2009.
Sam Yoon’s Questionnaire and Introductory Remarks with the JP Progressives
150 word maximum, no minimum. We will publish your answers in their entirety in the web version of this Candidate Survey. In the printed version, we reserve the right to edit for length, but not for meaning or intent.
There is limited space available for development in Boston. Given that, what sort of development should be prioritized, and how will you ensure that this development addresses pressing unmet needs, including affordable and low-income housing?
I understand affordable housing. I spent ten years building affordable housing -for seniors and people with disabilities. It is my passion. I understand that financing and competing community needs are the major stumbling blocks for any project – and so is Boston’s disjointed and divisive development process.
City government should be a strong partner in developing housing. We have the talent and skills in our community development and tenant communities, but we need a city government willing to work with them. Most importantly, we need a total overhaul of our development process. Comprehensive planning must guide our development. We can start by eliminating the Boston Redevelopment Authority and establishing a genuine Community Development and Planning Agency.
As Mayor, I will strengthen the City’s Inclusionary Development Policy to build more units of affordable housing and push for solutions to the problem of expiring use properties, so we preserve those units as affordable.
When it comes to development in Jamaica Plain specifically, what are your top three priorities?
- Balancing modes of transportation – transportation planning and development needs to be about moving people, not just cars – on foot, bike, wheelchair and via public transportation
- Community Economic Development through production of affordable housing, local hiring and small business support. (The Forest Hills Project and Blessed Sacrament are clearly critical to this effort)
- Open Space – JP has an amazing heritage on this front as a community that fought I-93 to make the Southwest Corridor and trail blazed community gardens for this city. We can do more – Seattle has a city community garden program and conducted comprehensive planning to identify which city owned land is best for housing and for community gardens.
Environment and Energy
If you are elected, what are three specific actions you would propose for the City of Boston to promote energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and improve the local environment?
- Energy Efficiency Retrofit fit program – working in collaboration with youth organizations, community groups and unions to create good jobs and energy savings for low income families
- Comprehensive Zoning & Permitting changes which encourage Green Neighborhoods – Underlying zoning changes will increase community gardens, streamline permitting for farmer’s markets, and incentivize healthy food options in neighborhood convenience stores and bodegas
- City Zip Car Fleet Management – allowing us to convert to a smaller, hybrid fleet
And there is plenty more we could be doing!
- Given the resurgence of youth violence in the city, what specific steps would you take to ensure the safety of youth in our city?
- What is your positive vision for youth in the City of Boston, and what do we need to do to get there?
There is no single issue that has influenced my decision to run for Mayor more than this one. I live in a community affected by violence, these are my neighbors and our children. We need cooperation, collaboration and a comprehensive approach to prevention– we did it before, we can do it again but not without new, invigorated leadership that isn’t all about credit.
- Focus on prevention – youth workers, trauma protocol, funding for youth programs
- Create a City Office of Re-entry – to coordinate recovery programs, CORI reform & help, housing searches, skills training to prevent recidivism
- Green Jobs – Boston jobs for Boston residents for the new economy
- Boston Children’s Zone approach – Violence is about public health as much as public safety. We need a seamless continuum of public health services from pre-natal health to college and career. Schools, Community Health Centers, non-profits, Boston Community Centers and libraries should be working together to reduce chronic diseases, persistent unemployment, and foreclosures; and to promote healthy homes, conflict resolution, & family unification.
What are the top three specific improvements you would suggest to improve accountability and transparency in city government?
- Open up the budget process – That begins by scheduling budget hearings before a budget is drawn up and advertising the hearings. We need to ensure an engaged citizenry participates in the process.
- Bring development dollars back to the budget – Right now, the Boston Redevelopment Authority controls billions of dollars in real estate and land and not a penny of it is accounted for in the city’s budget. I will establish a fully accountable city agency for planning and development, to ensure those dollars fund our schools, roads and parks.
- Establish Transparency 2.0 – Boston deserves a one-click searchable online budget. Citizens should be able to find detailed information about tax breaks, contracts, and spending on a single website. Performance measures will be fully reported and department heads will make data informed decisions. City employees will be rewarded for doing their job and providing services only.
- There will be a debate in Boston over the next few years about whether and how to revise the school’s transportation plan. What will be your priorities when approaching this topic?
- What do you believe are the primary causes of the achievement gap in the Boston Public School system, and what is your plan for closing this gap?
- What specific actions would you take to improve the failing schools in Boston?
We should expect and insist that every child in our city have access to a quality public education in his or her own neighborhood. The problem with Boston public schools and urban education in general is bigger than Tom Menino and it is certainly bigger than the transportation budget. Bottom line: the current transportation and busing debate in Boston is divisive and totally unproductive. All of our energy must be focused on transforming our failing schools and closing the achievement gap.
I believe that the achievement gap is caused by a myriad of factors – not all of which can be solely addressed in the school setting: poverty, poor health care, language, misdiagnosed learning challenges, trauma and other factors can prevent learning for individual children and for communities affected by these issues. The most important change needed to address the achievement gap is to take a Harlem Children’s Zone approach which engages all youth serving city agencies as well as community based services towards measured goals around educational achievement and health outcomes. This approach will require new leadership that values cooperation.
Boston’s Human Service and Public Health agencies are struggling with rising costs and shrinking budgets. If you could put $10 million just into those agencies, how would you invest it?
- $2 million into a statewide campaign for a progressive tax system – The most important way to invest this money is to grow the pie for human services and public health funds. Many of the large social service agencies that serve senior citizens and provide mental health services rely of state funding.
- $4 million to the Boston Public Health Commission – The Commission is one of the best in the world. I would invest $4 million to increase their capacity to treat chronic disease, improve food policy and prevent Youth Violence. I’d like to coordinate more violence prevention work through the Commission.
- $4 million in small community based non-profits – In my experience small community based organizations with budgets under $1 million have the most impact on problems that face poor and underserved communities. Yet they are chronically underfunded. I would invest the remaining $4 million in small community based non-profits that will stretch those dollars further.
State level transportation agencies have been reformed and combined, but still carry some of the highest debt load of any transportation system in the country. In light of this, if elected what would your priorities be for improving the overall transportation system in Boston?
Our public works department is in the dark ages. Our transportation department is still more focused on moving cars than people. We have two separate agencies responsible for planning. One has accountability, but no power. The other – controlled by the Mayor and the developers who pay for it – has power, but no accountability. My first priority for improving the overall transportation system in Boston is to insist that city agencies work with our partners in state government and in private development to ensure a cohesive, balanced, affordable transportation system for Boston.
We need a Mayor who will encourage regional and inter-agency collaboration. City government should be working with the MBTA, MassPort and the state legislature to ensure Boston has a world-class public transportation system and the resources to maintain it. A big city Mayor who believes in public transportation can have a major impact on transportation.
Jobs and Labor
Most job growth in Metro Boston has occurred in Boston suburbs, while minority populations have been growing in the central city. Black and Latino residents have faced unemployment rates 3 times the rate of white residents, and Asian residents twice that of whites. What single policy would you support that would have the greatest impact on unemployment and job disparities in Boston?
I support an Energy Efficient Retrofit program combined with a strengthened Boston Resident Jobs Policy (BRJP) to ensure that stimulus funds for Green Jobs benefit historically underemployed communities. If we get serious about a new Green economy now, we can spur the creation of new markets (tax credits for green roofs will spur green roof product and installation businesses). If we have a funded and enforced BRJP then we can work with unions and community based groups to ensure good paying jobs for Boston’s communities of color.
Race and Diversity
Affirmative action policies have recently been watered down by court decisions at the federal level. Were the City of Boston to be forced to dismantle affirmative action policies as a result, what are three steps you would take to ensure and increase access to opportunities within city government agencies? What are some creative policies other than affirmative action that the city could implement that would support and retain diversity within its workforce?
In Boston, diversity is our greatest strength. As mayor, my administration will look like our city. Diversity in the workplace is not just the right thing to do – it’s good business.
- The Boston Resident Jobs Policy must be enforced. The City of Boston is the second largest employer in the city, and it is only right that city jobs go to Boston residents. We need to adjust this program to ensure that minorities are hired by the city.
- Outreach – The City of Boston should be aggressively seeking out a diverse workforce. Talented minorities who are willing to serve need to have the opportunity to do so. This outreach needs to start at Boston schools and continue into the colleges.
- Work with Unions – The city needs to work with unions, particularly the building trades, to ensure that women and people of color are afforded the opportunities they deserve.
- The city of Boston is very limited in the ways in which it can raise revenue. Given that, what changes, if any, would you propose to make city revenue policy more progressive?
- If you were given the power to substantially reduce the budget of two city departments and increase the budget of two others by that same amount, what departments would you cut from, and which would you add to?
The single biggest, untapped factor in Boston’s overall revenue picture is the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Billions of dollars of real estate – some city owned land – is controlled by this black box of an agency. I will eliminate the BRA and bring that revenue back into the city budget.
As you know, Boston has limited authority to raise its own revenue. As Mayor, I would be a staunch ally for progressive tax efforts at the State House.
Significant savings can be found in a number of areas – long outlined by independent reports. Curbing out of control overtime budgets for police, fire and public works will net tens of millions of dollars. Enacting long overdue reforms to the Fire and Public Works Department will also result in real money.
We need to reinvest these resources I youth and education programming.