|Date:||January 14, 2021|
“Once again this year, I believe the Community Agenda created by our partners calls on us to address some of the most serious challenges we face in our region,” said Partnership for the Public Good Executive Director Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, as the group unveiled its 2021 Community Agenda in a festive event on Zoom.
“Our 315 community partners are bringing their solutions, their imagination, and their collective vision for a better, fairer, more caring community. They have come together to identify the top ten policy changes that local and state governments should take in the coming year,” Ó Súilleabháin explained.
Each fall PPG leads a democratic process among its partners to determine the Community Agenda for the coming year. This year’s Agenda addresses topics such as vacant land use, language access, local home ownership, and police oversight.
In twelve years of creating and supporting a Community Agenda, PPG partners have seen many of their goals realized, on issues such as fines and fees justice, statewide climate legislation, creating Buffalo’s first community land trust, and increasing minimum wage.
The 2020 Community Agenda—adopted last January before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived—included policy priorities that would become gravely urgent throughout the year, from eviction prevention and water access to good food for schoolchildren and ending disparities in police enforcement.
The 2021 Community Agenda was announced at a virtual event opened by local spoken word poet Jillian Hanesworth. Then, an advocate for each proposed policy shared why it matters for our city and region.
The top ten policy change priorities are:
1. Remove Police from Frontline Response to Mental Health Crises
2. Pass the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA)
3. Use Public Land for Public Benefit
4. Equitable and Sustained Funding of Frontline Arts Communities
5. Implement a New Police Oversight Model and Increase Public Involvement in Police Contract Negotiations
6. Improve Language Access and Inclusion in Western New York
7. Fund Public Transportation Emergency Relief, Expansion, and Improvement
8. Promote Local Home Ownership by Changing the City of Buffalo Auction
9. Stop the Practice of Stationing Off-Duty Police Officers in Buffalo Public Schools
10. Invest in Just Streets, Not Enforcement
In calling for action on the number one priority, removing police from mental health response, Kartika Carr of VOICE Buffalo said: “The thought of us continually being impacted by what is happening in the current state of the world and not being able to support people specifically around mental health is literally setting us up to die.”
In calling for equitable funding for artists and arts organizations in frontline communities, Maria Ta of Ujima Company said: “While some are calling for a return to normal, what we need, now more than ever, is to reimagine our future. Arts and cultural workers face challenges in our livelihoods, in bad times and even in good ones. However, especially in the frontline art communities, help rarely reaches our doors. When the waves of this pandemic subsides, who will be left standing?”
In calling for a new model for police oversight in Buffalo, Miles Gresham of PPG said: “The oversight structure is so weak in the City of Buffalo, with an oversight board that doesn’t have subpoena power and doesn’t have disciplinary power. And then, of course, on the state side, there are laws that make it so that police are more often than not successful when they challenge the firings of bad cops.”
In calling for changes to the Buffalo property auction to prioritize local residents seeking to become homeowners, Ahmad Nieves of Buffalo Information Sharing Collective said: “A lot of people who benefit from the auction are not from Buffalo, so this plank is to change the auction process” to offer properties to local residents first.
In calling for a new approach to traffic safety known as Just Streets, Jalonda Hill of the Buffalo Fair Fines + Fees Coalition said: ““This plank is about reimagining safety and reimagining how we keep our streets. We shouldn’t penalize people by giving them tickets that they cannot afford to pay. We should redesign streets to change people’s behavior.”
PPG and its partners will be visiting with elected leaders in the coming months to review the Agenda with them and ask for their support.
Several elected officials joined the meeting to voice their support for the Agenda:
NYS Senator Sean Ryan expressed support for removing speed cameras and punitive enforcement from traffic safety efforts, citing the negative impacts on low-income communities. When it comes to traffic safety, he said, “Intelligent design is the way to do it.”
Erie County Legislator April Baskin voiced her support for more equitable arts funding, for improving language access, and for providing alternatives to police in mental health emergency response. She said: “I have found PPG to be one of the most valuable community resources. I am continuously grateful for your partnership and all of your advice as we move forward in advancing the people’s agenda across the City of Buffalo and Erie County.”
NYS Assemblymember Monica Wallace, NYS Assemblymember Karen McMahon, NYS Assemblymember Jon Rivera, and Buffalo Common Councilmember David Rivera also offered remarks in support of particular advocacy priorities.
A video of the event with all participants’ remarks is available at PPG’s facebook page: facebook.com/ppgbuffalo.