PUBLIC PROFILE: City of Phoenix newest council member, Sarah Westover
A recent graduate from Southern Oregon University, Sarah Westover is putting her Political Science degree into immediate use: This November, she was elected to city council in Phoenix. An organizer with Oregon Student Association, Westover also has worked on the No on LNG Campaign—and now takes her activism into elected policies.
Rogue Valley Messenger: You have moved from working as an activist on several campaigns to working at City Hall? How do you think your approach to “change” will change?
Sarah Westover: My approach to change is rooted in bringing community together around issues that impact them¨ regardless of political disposition. That takes patience, an ability to listen and cultivate relationships and willingness to engage people in decision making. That’s what I did as a community organizer and what I hope to do to facilitate change at the council level.
RVM: Environmental causes seem to be one of your calling cards? How do you plan to promote those issues in your position?
SW: In the face of growing population and climate change, local leaders have a responsibility to help make smart planning decisions now to protect our resources and quality of life for our communities? To me, this means making smart land use decisions and thinking ahead about developing in a way that both preserves open spaces and prevents sprawl by maximizing density in residential areas. It also means planning ahead for things like water management, drought prevention and energy efficiency in new buildings. As well as improving and expanding access to our public transportation systems?
RVM: What did you learn during your campaign? Did you hear one particular theme or issue from voters during the past few months?
SW: I had lots of one on one conversations with community members and business leaders. What I heard over and over again is that local residents want a city that works for everyone, no matter what their background or income, and that we need to be preparing for the future so that as we grow we have good-paying jobs, affordable housing and transportation¨ and a good environment for raising families.
RVM: Did you like campaigning?
SW: I enjoyed meeting new neighbors and hearing their priorities. There are a lot of cool folks in Phoenix. While canvassing I met a neighbor who holds a Guinness world record for one of the largest collections of panda bear figurines. She has more than 3,000. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to meet and work with more Phoenix residents and learn more about the needs of our community.
RVM: Affordability increasingly is an important issue in the region. What plans do you have to address that issue?
SW: With housing costs in the Rogue Valley skyrocketing and wages stagnating too many in our community are struggling to find and keep a place to live. Phoenix’s recent housing needs analysis shows that 44 percent of all Phoenix households and 68 percent of Phoenix renters are cost-burdened, meaning that they pay 30 percent or more of their income just for housing costs. One of the key findings of the analysis is that we need to diversify housing types that provide more affordable options to meet an expected population increase of 40 percent by 2036.
We can start addressing those needs by prioritizing local policy that would allow a wider range of smaller more affordable units with a higher density, like duplexes and apartment complexes. To maximize these efforts we need to advocate for local control over inclusionary zoning policies, which could allow us to establish requirements and incentives to work with developers to build the kinds of housing our community needs.
RVM: What are the biggest challenges for Phoenix? Opportunities?
SW: Phoenix is in a very exciting time of transition and growth that gives us lots of opportunities to shape what our community looks like for years to come. Some of the challenges we will face come with balancing growth and meeting the needs of all of the people in our community by doing things like providing affordable housing and ensuring responsible resource management.
I’m looking forward to helping the council to build trust with the community and ensure we are providing more avenues for citizen involvement.