Alfred 'Fred' Sanchez: 2021 candidate for Park Ridge City Council, 2nd Ward
Second Ward; two candidates -- one seat
Hometown: Park Ridge
Employer: Social Security Administration
Civic involvement: Park Ridge Holiday Lights Committee, founding member of Park Ridge Holiday Lights not-for-profit; Taste of Park Ridge Committee, organized volunteer crews since 2016; Park Ridge Girls' Softball coach
Q: What is the primary reason you're running for office? What is the most important issue?
A. I have a deep 40 year connection to Park Ridge and have lived in the Second Ward for 16 years. This gives me a unique perspective on many of the issues facing Second Ward and the city as a whole. As alderman, I will advocate for preserving the charm and appeal of this community. I have serious concerns with the apparent lack of transparency regarding the proposed comprehensive plan as a whole. The plan targets areas where the city will allow the teardown of single family homes in a neighborhood so that they can be rebuilt as two or three-flats. Why only are certain areas of the city targeted, including some in my ward? Residents in these targeted zones should be informed that the city is contemplating some dramatic zoning changes that would allow their next door neighbor to sell a single family home to a developer, who can then, in turn, build a two-flat, or maybe even a three-flat. This raises all sorts of concerns, including how the addition of multifamily residences in these targeted neighborhoods could affect overall home values. And, being a current school board member, I am alarmed by what can only result in further overpopulation of our already bustling schools.
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree -- or defer to state and federal authorities?
A. As an elected official, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Illinois. As a result, elected officials, including Park Ridge alderman often must defer to state and federal authorities, who enact laws and, in many cases this year, issued executive orders, which the courts upheld. That being said, our job is to be a representative for the people of our ward and to listen to them, give them a voice for their complaints and ideas, and to find ways to implement compromise when feasible and lawful. A nice example was the closing of part of Main Street in Uptown Park Ridge to allow for expanded outdoor dining during the summer months. This was something the residents of Park Ridge really wanted to see, and the city was able to accommodate those desires within the confines of state law by closing part of the street and relaxing permitting and municipal codes to make it happen.
Q. Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. The town did a valiant job providing continuity of service during the pandemic. Even at the outset, there was no reduction or changes to critical emergency services, water distribution, or refuse collection. While City Hall suspended in-person visits early on in the pandemic, residents were still able to conduct business online, and City Hall continued to staff various departments to help residents by phone as well. By July, City Hall had resumed normal operating hours. The reality is that the city was really put in a tough position of trying to keep residents safe and reduce the spread of the virus while trying to support our local businesses, which in turn employ a lot of people. I appreciate the steps the city took to try and ensure that residents remained safe. For instance, the mayor enacted his own executive orders early on in the pandemic and did things like implementing a mask order. He even asked fellow local elected officials to record videos to encourage people to wear a mask when leaving their home, and I was happy and proud to have recorded one of those videos.
Q. In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A. The reality is that most safeguards will come from the federal government or the state and elected officials have taken an oath to support those laws meant to protect the public. However, to the extent local governments can continue to enact guideline intended to help the public, I think requiring masks to be worn indoors remains prudent as the vaccination roll out continues. Until most of the population is vaccinated and we have an idea about the success of herd immunity, masks continue to offer the greatest protection against the spread of the virus. I also think the state should continue to relax the open meetings act to permit elected officials the option of attending remotely. If there is another public health crisis, or even in the context of our ongoing pandemic, those with compromised immune systems or who care for those with such illnesses benefit greatly from this privilege. This pandemic has shown us that video meetings still permit full participation and engagement. To the extent most governmental entities have moved to virtual meeting and are now broadcasting them, I believe that should continue so the public can remain safe at home but still participate.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. Park Ridge is a community without an industrial base to support governmental financing. As a result, the property owner bears the brunt of the tax burden, but we all moved into this city knowing that because we desired a charming community with good schools. Coming from the school board of District 64, I am well aware that District 64 comprises almost 43% of the property owner's tax bill. Conversely, the city of Park Ridge makes up around 10% of the property owner's tax bill. That doesn't leave a whole lot of room for the city to provide much tax relief. This year, in District 64, we were in the fortunate position to be able to abate tax dollars back to the taxpayer. That's not the case with the city. The few things the city has done or could do, I would support, including suspending or waiving city sticker fees and suspending utility billing fines and shut offs. The city has and should continue to look at deferring as many planned expenses and projects as possible including street and parking lot resurfacing, refreshing of IT equipment, vehicle purchases, and hiring freezes.
Q. What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A. My neighbors and fellow residents of the Second Ward report that flooding and stormwater remediation continues to be the highest priority for them. Some streets still have too few storm drains or require new sewer lines or sewer repair. The city's approach to relining existing sewers with new technology should continue and be rolled out to the greatest extent possible. The city has done study after study after study, and the council needs to continue implementing the recommendations on the ways to move or store stormwater. I want to be a strong advocate for the needs of my ward. We continue to have areas in my ward that flood anytime there is a strong rain. We need to look at all options, big and small, that might alleviate some of the persistent flooding we experience. For a project the size needed to address the city's entire sewer issues, estimates would exceed $100 million So, the only way to way to really fund such a project would be through a vehicle like a stormwater utility fee. Projects such as street and parking lot resurfacing should be put on the back burner right now as the city deals with the pandemic.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your municipality has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. A majority of residents in the precincts in my ward are in favor of recreational marijuana sales in the community, as reflected in the results from the November referendum. I agree with the city council that marijuana sales should be permitted. However, I also think we need to be considerate of the concerns of those residents who do not support permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community. To that end, I think we need to be thoughtful on where points of sale would be placed in the city. Personally, I am of the belief that if we don't target the Higgins corridor as a place for such a business, the very same business will appear across the street on the Chicago side of the street, and Park Ridge will miss out on those tax dollars. I believe putting a marijuana dispensary on the edge of the city, close to Chicago, the expressway, and the airport, will benefit the store owner and city. As of last month, the city council voted to prohibit marijuana dispensaries in parts of Uptown. I would have preferred that the city have barred marijuana dispensaries from any part of Uptown. I agree with the actions taken by the city council which would not allow more than two such businesses operating within the city at one time and which established a tax on cannabis sales.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. I'd like to see greater intergovernmental cooperation between Park Ridge governmental entities in order to reduce costs and allow the sharing of services. For instance, the park district, school district, and city all own equipment necessary for lawn care, whether it be to seed, mow, and aerate lawns. However, the taxpayer is often buying the same type of equipment, whether it is a tractor or mower, for each entity. As another example or inefficiency and repetitive purchasing, the park district has a vehicle with a brush to remove snow from the sidewalks. They will use it at Centennial but then stop when they get to the teachers lot at Washington Elementary School. Similarly, the city has vehicles with brushes to remove snow from sidewalks. And, not surprisingly, the school district too has much of the same snow removal equipment as the city and the park district. Because there's no intergovernmental cooperative agreement between these entities to share costs or services, such as snow removal or lawn care, the taxpayer has frequently, and unknowingly, bought the same equipment two or sometimes even three times. There is efficiency and savings in pulling resources and with buying power.