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Andrea Lofthouse plans to bring her arts and education background to Alhambra City Council

Photo courtesy of Andrea Lofthouse.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Andrea Lofthouse calls herself a cross-cultural community organizer who loves to bring people together around art, education and the environment. She grew up in Alhambra and became a community organizer while attending college at UC Berkeley. For the last ten years, she has worked in education, first in Los Angeles and now for the past five years as an environmental science teacher at Alhambra High School. Lofthouse spoke to the Alhambra Source about how she’d empower all Alhambra residents, including those who haven’t traditionally had a voice, to come together to solve city issues as the City Council member for Alhambra’s 1st District.

Why are you running for City Council?

I’m running because I feel really passionate about the City of Alhambra and I have a strong vision for what I want the city government to do.

If I didn’t feel like at this point in our political history, people like me needed to take a stand and needed to have a voice in government, I wouldn’t do this. I need to do this for both myself and my community.

What I hope to do is connect people in Alhambra. That is to connect people to their neighbors, connect people to nature and connect people to these broader groups, whether it’s our city government or other institutions. I think we need more connection in Alhambra.

Whenever I think about how we’re going to solve a problem, I use questions. So my big question is, “How do we build a strong, multicultural community?” I’m really concerned that everyone is needed in our city and that everybody feels like they belong. So that’s the foundation of my platform. We’re going to use culture and we’re going to use arts to ensure that we’re able to get everyone together. And then once people connect, then we can look at civic engagement, in terms of having a voice in governing our city. None of that is possible without connecting people and making sure that people have a mutual respect and responsibility for the city we live in.

Can you give an example of how you would use arts to connect people?

One of the key things for me is that we self-identify as an immigrant community. So using a project, a mural for example, we could share our origin stories by bringing together artists from the community, and by giving people the chance to control their own story. They’re not only going to feel belonging but their message is going to resonate with other people and that’s going to strengthen this culture, so that people feel proud and grow in their understanding. I think that the arts help us define who we are.

What are the key issues you’re running on?

We have to recognize that issues like housing instability, poverty, traffic, are regional issues. And to come up with those solutions, we’re going to need everyone to be open-minded.

It’s more about my problem-solving approach. How do we make decisions in a community? We have a lot of cities around us who are doing good work. We’re doing good work in certain respects. I want to look at models for success so that we don’t replicate the mistakes of other communities. We have so many local assets to build upon. We have high density. We have diversity. We have an engaged business community. And we have tons of untapped cultural resources. At the very least, our restaurants and urban agriculture are off the charts. So building on these assets and looking at models from other parts of the region, I think we can solve our problems in a really authentic way.

And I think this is the critical thing that I would ask from future constituents. I need an openness. The solution might not be something you’ve heard of before. But I promise that value everyone’s input in the process.

I was educated in design-based learning back in 2008. So for the last nine years, I run my classroom based on design-based learning. So I’m constantly solving problems with my students. Anything from how we prevent people from dying in natural disasters to how we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of a pencil. All sorts of issues that seem difficult and nuanced, I’ve been working with students at Alhambra High School to solve for the last five years. So I really am passionate about getting everyone’s input. I think there’s a real vitality in getting different perspectives. If you become silo-ed and you only see your own perspective, your solution will never have traction. And we need transformative solutions. I think everyone can agree. We need solutions where there’s buy-in.

Have you thought of any such solutions?

Of course! Most recently, I was at the Measure A meeting that was facilitated by API Forward Movement. What makes me so excited is that there are regional solutions. This was a chance for me to practice what I knew about open spaces and all the opportunities in a public forum. In terms of open space and Measure A monies, what I’m really excited about doing is focusing on waterways. We have these creeks — the San Pasqual Creek and there’s one other that goes from Alhambra north-to-south, and I’m really interested in seeing how we can create, not necessarily pocket parks, but something to that effect, where we’re taking what would be considered a wash or a drainage basin and turning it into a multi-purpose space. So we would encourage social interaction. We would make people feel connected to nature through education and simply highlighting the fact that these creeks are part of larger watersheds that connect the mountains to the ocean.

Housing was the top issue in our City Council survey. What do you think the solution is there?

I feel that we first must be honest about the nature of the problem. The obvious solution which is development is tied to a source of obvious frustration for Alhambra residents. Having acknowledged that historic frustration, we also have to acknowledge that we’re in a housing crisis regionally and that our population is going to continue to grow. So yes, there’s an absolute necessity there.

The model I look to is simply the City of Pasadena. I thought the inclusionary housing policies that Bill Huang talked about were really powerful. It’s really good to have a number. He had outlined that 15 percent of new housing units should be affordable. By using distinct measures like this inclusionary housing policy, as citizens we can more actively negotiate for what we want in our community.

I think another really important tool is this question of garage conversions. And I know that historically people have felt that would lead to issues akin to crowding and that would change the character of neighborhoods. But I would very respectfully ask people to consider that it’s a housing crisis and in my opinion, what we’re looking at is fighting poverty through tools like this. I would prefer to support families here in Alhambra. I can only speak to my own experience as a teacher. Every time we lose a family because a parent loses a job, it’s a rip in our community. It breaks up all these social bonds. We all have to honor the fact that this is happening.

So I’m really interested in working with other local partners. I know that the City of L.A. has a number of non-profits that they work with in terms of housing and equitable voices in planning. I think we can work with academic institutions as well, like USC and Cal Poly Pomona. When I say that I’m interested in creative problem solving, that’s just it. I think there are incredible solutions waiting to happen that are nuanced, but we need to have engagement and that’s engagement of citizens, business, as well as a number of partners.

What do you think about rent control?

I’ve heard that there is a really interesting balance between rent control leading to stability in housing and then it leading to the exact opposite. So I would need to know more about it, but I am in favor of rent control. More than 15 percent of people are living in poverty and I think it’s so important to understand the pressures of raising a family with that small amount of money. I have so much respect for the creativity and resilience of people who live below the poverty line and we have to acknowledge that that’s thousands of people in the city. So their stability and their piece of mind and their ability to live out lives of purpose, we need to support them. So if rent control is one of the tools we can use to stabilize people’s housing situation, then by all means, we have to think about the greater good and utilize them.

Another issue people are concerned about is traffic. What do you think of that?

I take a very community-based approach in that I want to know more about the population as it is now. I think on the surface we’re a very car-driven society and community here in Alhambra, but I think the reality is very different. I for one am a pedestrian and I walk to work and I love it. I love living near where I work. I think it would be great for the city to invest more resources into understanding how people get around Alhambra and where they’re going. I’m very interested in the environment and people’s health. Options like walking and biking and using public transit are widely accepted ways to benefit both the environment and people’s health. Right now, that’s where I am with traffic. I feel like I need to know more and as always, I’m very concerned with what people’s specific needs are.

And how about crime?

So this is one I just really need a lot of education on. The way I think of it right now is that I go back to my experiences in the district I want to represent, which is the 1st District. And I can speak as my mother’s daughter, and I can speak to the experiences of the people who have lived in my neighborhood. I think one major trend is that we see burglaries and home break-ins. I don’t know the exact causes. I do feel that it’s complex. But regardless of the causes, I think the solutions are going to come from our communities. We see neighborhood watches as a really strong option. I want to recognize that our residents work really long hours, both in my neighborhood behind Twohey’s and in my mom’s neighborhood in the Bean Tract. People regularly work 12-hour days. They leave their houses at 10 a.m. and come back at 9 or 10 at night. This is an economic reality for a lot of people who live in single-family homes. I think we need to put a lot of heads together. You have elderly people living in single-family homes and they hear about these break-ins. And I think these are the social fabric issues where people feel isolated and vulnerable.

People are trying to get signatures for a ballot initiative to get rid of at-large voting. What do you think of that?

A ballot measure like this will ensure that people have a voice in City Hall and in the government of our city resources and the common good. That’s what we’re all trying to achieve here I hope. The common good.

Now if people’s needs aren’t being met and they don’t have a voice, then we’re in a weird situation. And my concern with at-large voting is just that, that people’s voices become diluted by this force of money in politics. It costs a lot more money to run a campaign in a city of 90,000 people than in a district of 15 to 18,000 people. Growing up in the 1st District, I know many of my neighbors and I can speak to a lot of the problems. That is from my history and my roots. My fear is that the interests of the citizens are lost when their voice doesn’t have a direct megaphone. So the voices of the neighborhood need to be projected. How are they projected? Through their city council member.

The ballot measure also calls for a cap on campaign funds.

Oh, I think it’s a brilliant too, because it’s a question of voice. Unfortunately with Citizens United, it’s made it very clear to people like me who are interested in concerns about democracy that money has a voice. And where are those moneyed interests? I’m not going to speak to that, but I can definitely say that I believe people’s voice should have the weight. I think it becomes too easy to depend on campaign contributions. The fact that we have this at-large voting policy necessitates in some ways these large campaign coffers. It’s interesting that there’s a synergy here between at-large voting and campaign finance. We will all be better off when both of these measures are passed.

How are you raising money for your campaign?

I am raising money through grassroots fundraising. I’m looking forward to knocking on doors all summer long and through the fall. I plan on doing meet and greets at individual residents’ homes. I want to honor the spirit of the ballot measures. I think a $250 cap is fabulous.

I don’t want to say that I’m not interested in the money from the stakeholders at large in our city. But I need to be very clear that there are good faith efforts between all these stakeholders. So capping all contributions at $250 makes me feel like I have a measure to equalize this. I need everyone on board.

What do you think the city can do to promote art or arts programming?

I think one very strong option would be to create an arts plan. And I know the General Plan update is coming up. I would encourage the city to start by outlining priorities and needs and assessing assets. We have tremendous assets through the teachers in the Alhambra Unified School District and through their arts programs. But if you walk along Main Street and Valley Boulevard, you’ll also see a lot of cultural and arts groups that exist. So I think things like developing cultural leadership programs would be wonderful. I think it’s a matter of creating opportunities. So in the arts and culture world we have things like artists in residence. These are really big picture ways of approaching it. I think it all starts with priorities and a plan.

I was really encouraged by the fact that City Hall now opens its lobby to individual artists from our city. What I want to encourage them to do is to look at the narratives of the art. So if I were the curator of that space, I would choose a monthly theme and ask Alhambra residents who grapple with that theme to submit their portfolios. The power of art is that it gives us a way of expressing things that are difficult to express through words alone. It’s a way of exploring and imagining. So I’m always going to go back to this idea that it facilitates conversations. I want the conversation in the lobby of City Hall to be focused so that people can step away with questions, feeling like they’ve been engaged.

Art is how people make sense of the world we live in and artists are in a special place where they’re dedicating themselves to figuring that out. So let’s share that in our lobby. It can only go to supporting our values as a city.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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