COACHELLA — Lesly Figueroa, 24, a policy advocate for the Fresn0-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, is  challenging Steven Hernandez in the Nov. 3 election to be this city’s next mayor.

Hernandez is a three-term mayor of this community of 45,000 people.

According  to city of Coachella demographics, the city is 98% Latino. It has the lowest median household income ($33,870) and the youngest median age (33.5) of any Coachella Valley community.

Uken Report posed a series of identical questions to both candidates. Following are Figueroa’s responses.

Uken Report (UR): Why specifically do you want to mayor?

Lesly Figueroa: I am a community organizer, policy advocate, with an urban planning background, daughter of immigrants, woman of color, and intersectional feminist. I have on-the-ground connections with residents and the policy solutions that will make our community much stronger. I’m running to be Mayor in the city of Coachella because I’m giving our community an opportunity to believe in democracy again with candidates they can believe in. Coachella’s voter turnout has been historically low for the past 20 years and it is NOT representative of our community. I’m running because I want this campaign to inspire other young women of color, and LGBTQ+ folks to run. We should be setting a tone and
highlighting our progressive values by uplifting our progressive community members to see themselves
running for public office in the future too. This will not end with me, it will only be the beginning because when we say representation matters, it does and it makes a difference. I want everyone to know that anyone should be able to run for public office. Our democracy cannot function with uncontested races and chosen leadership. Everyday people do not have to ask for permission, wait their turn, or work their way up the ladder to represent their community.

UR: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment either in or out of office?

Lesly Figueroa: I see my greatest accomplishment as playing a vital role in our community to help pinpoint the issues in our local democracy. This effort was based on deep community organizing efforts with various community leaders that recognized a cycle of regressive values and lip service paid to our community. Proposed projects like the Thermal Beach Club highlighted the deep systemic issues of segregation, classism, and priority to development that gave no indication of clear community benefits. There was a total lack of transparency and leadership that represented urgent community needs. We began to question the development and priorities of our region’s leadership such as unfinished hotels, favoritism,, dismissing the needs of residents with unsafe drinking water, and years of mistrust on public spending.

We ignited a new generation of activism that has spread in the Eastern Coachella Valley for those who believe in a true progressive future. Where being a progressive means advocating for social/political change to represent everyday people and rid corrupt politics from all our governments. Having this conversation is not divisive, and rather necessary to imagine a better future.

This is one of my biggest accomplishments because this is bigger than me and all of us. This is about how we ensure we eliminate the cycle of poverty and legacy of oppression in our communities, and how we survive this pandemic that is disproportionately impacting low-income and communities of color the most. This effort needs people standing up for what is right even when it is unpopular and having and owning that courage alongside my community to deconstruct and reconstruct our local democracy is a huge accomplishment many are not willing to do.

UR: How do you define leader and leadership?

Lesly Figueroa: A leader is someone who listens to residents and validates their experiences. They work towards finding a solution through collective efforts and acknowledge everyone in the group to give credit where credit is due.

A leader is someone who leads with honesty, authenticity, and humility. They stand up for what is right, even when no one else in the room will.

A leader is welcoming and understands the systemic issues our country faces and works to deconstruct them to protect and uplift working class people. A leader knows when it is time to step up to be bold and when it is time to step down.

The leadership qualities of a true leader is someone who can motivate people and connect with people in an empathetic way that makes a positive impact. This leadership enacts transformative change that uplifts others and inspires them to continue towards a collective vision with common goals.

UR: Do you fit this definition?

Lesly Figueroa: Yes, my role as a community organizer has prepared me to be a true leader with the right leadership qualities that truly motivates people and enacts change. I work on building authentic, long-lasting relationships with community members that fosters trust.

The leadership qualities I possess are not static and I’m constantly re-evaluating them to understand how to be a better leader and community member. . I believe we are never finished growing and it is important we recognize when we are wrong or when we have not done enough in our capacity. The way I see it, the work to be done in our community or city is never complete. We will never be perfect but we need to be willing to go above and beyond and we cannot be complacent.. Lastly, I believe in creating and fostering new leaders.

Right now, it is me running for public office and later it will be someone else and it’s important to pave a path for a new generation of leaders who are willing, capable, and able to move our city forward.

UR: What are your top three goals for Coachella?

Lesly Figueroa:

Promoting Accountability and Transparency in our local government on policy decision-making and public spending that is well-informed by resident input.

  1. Establishing an Equity Assessment Tool to provide an analysis among all city departments and
    contracts to identify and address inequitable policies, community engagement, and resource
  2. Undergoing community listening sessions to review existing city commissions and create new ones
    based on community priorities
  3. Creating a planning process that allows for meaningful community engagement among various areas of the City such as planning groups that inform the planning commission and the city council

Ensuring a fair and just economic recovery due to COVID19 and continuing to bring positive growth and economic opportunity to our region.

  1. Establishing a menu of outreach and engagement strategies to distribute COVID-19 information and community resources among various mediums of communication.
    2. Prioritizing and welcoming green jobs, union jobs, vocational jobs, and jobs with livable wages.
    Recruiting progressive companies and supporting local businesses.
    3. Advancing affordable housing and expanding local tenant protections by keeping families housed during and after pandemic.

Creating collaborative processes and spaces that build community partnerships w/ various stakeholders that put people first.

  1. Establishing community engagement guidelines to serve as an accountability measure for all future
    development and when seeking out state-funding opportunities.
  2. Strengthening relationships with local and regional stakeholders such as: community members,
    school districts, tribal nations, agriculture, and among many more.

UR: If you could change one thing about Coachella, what would it be?

Lesly Figueroa: I want to change our local democracy for the better. I have a vision of truly democratizing all levels of our local government because I believe in people power. I want there to be a diverse representation of everyday people across the City of Coachella in our local democracy.

The pattern in our local politics is a representation of a few groups of Coachella. We need to open up our
democracy to other people and other generations with more progressive values. One way is to move into
districts as other cities have done so. Moving us into districts opens up our democracy. This can also fundamentally shift the idea that we are all the same in Coachella. The reality is, we are not all the same. Although we are 98% Latino, it is critical to recognize the class differences in our community.

Immigration status, racism, colorism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia that needs to be addressed at the root. Opening our democracy, allows people who have been marginalized or underrepresented the
opportunity to take a step into local leadership. New candidates also promote higher voter turnout because people are more likely to vote for candidates on the ballot when it isn’t the same person over and over again or if there is an uncontested race. My hope is to work towards looking at all our levels of citizen participation that further democratizes our local government for the better.

UR: Anything you would like to add?

Lesly Figueroa: In this historical election year, we are activating our community to vote this year and giving them an opportunity to believe in democracy again by voting for candidates they can believe in. Voting is an important pillar of our democracy and I commit to ensuring our community understands how voting is part of our civic duty. That is why I am running for Mayor in the City of Coachella to give my community a better choice on the ballot that is willing to fight alongside them.

This campaign is centered in equity and democracy . For so long, City of Coachella politics have been
dominated by the same group of people of our community. The pandemic made me realize we are not
connected or prepared to lift our community up during these times. We must be bold and proactive. This
campaign will not be easy. The incumbent has been on the Coachella City Council for 14 years, since he was 23 years old. This long tenure in government has created an environment around his administration that is disconnected from the priorities of marginalized communities within the East Valley. However, as a community organizer I have the community connections, honesty, and people power that will bring a new perspective to the East Valley . The City of Coachella has the lowest voter turnout in the Coachella Valley. With a population of 45,000 residents, and approximately 13,000 registered to vote, less than 5,000 people voted in the 2018 election. The median age in the City of Coachella is 29 years old and is 98% Latino. This young population is eager for change in their political leadership. More so than ever, they are looking for transparency and accountability, something that is at the core of my mission as mayoral candidate.

Over the years, the City of Coachella has undergone positive changes. I plan to build upon that work and move the City forward into a more healthy, vibrant, and resilient city. We need leaders who are willing to advocate for their residents who do not have money to pay the rent, are unemployed, and do not have access to the internet. The hardworking people of the City of Coachella need leadership that will walk right next to them and fight for what they deserve. That is why I am running because we cannot afford to be passive or wait our turn, we must be bold and lead with our community at the forefront. The vision I see for Coachella is a collaborative and a progressive one.

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