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Tucson City Council
Candidates on Food Policy

Tucson City Council candidates answer our food policy questions.

August 22, 2017

On August 29, Tucson will hold primary elections for Wards 3, 5, and 6 of Tucson City Council (Ward 5 Council Member Richard Fimbres is running unopposed). Edible Baja Arizona asked Tucson City Council candidates a few food policy questions to learn how they might work for our local food system once in office. We gave every candidate running for Tucson City Council the opportunity to answer, but we have not yet heard back from Mariano Rodriguez (Ward 6). We update this post if and when this candidate sends us his response.


Ward 3

Felicia Chew

How can Tucson leverage its City of Gastronomy designation to support food justice and access for everyone in our community?  

Through community relationships, and existing organizations, we can have community festivals, and continue to foster community gardens, and perhaps even implement “neighbor gardens.” Tucsonans like to have food competitions, so we can continue to build on those experiences, forging partnerships with businesses, individuals, and schools.

How will you lead and respond to climate change within the City and County? How does water conservation fit into your climate change policy?

As a volunteer for the Watershed Management Group, I will encourage others to participate as volunteers in existing programs, and to make personal changes in water use. As we know, living in a desert requires water conservation practices. However, many of us, like water, are lazy (apologies for anyone who feels offended by that statement). However, unless there is some pressing reason to make a change, we most likely will not. As a City, we can provide external motivators such as monetary incentives, bragging rights, or just creating happy hearts, to encourage Tucsonans to conserve water, so we can have more water for growing delicious edibles. This also means having policies regarding the use of pesticides, and classifying “weeds.”  Together, we can create a bounty for feasting.

The updates to the urban agriculture zoning code, approved by the City Council in 2015, were a huge step forward in supporting a localized food shed in the city. What’s next? What policy changes would help support a robust local food economy? 

It may seem unconnected, but focusing on a more sustainable transit program, including our bus, bicycle, pedestrian, and alternative to car pathways such as creating green streets is one step. In addition, teaching our community about invasive versus native species, and edible desert plants, will allow families to grow food in their own homes, and share them with their neighbors. With partnerships and experience with food resiliency programs and experts in the community, we can design programs that meet Tucsonans’ needs. We can use models such as New York’s community block grants, and we can replicate exemplar programs, and tailor them to individual, family, and neighborhoods to allow our community to work towards a more sustainable climate in Tucson. We can also revisit land use policies to ensure that urban gardening needs do not require additional policy changes.

What sets you apart from the other candidates running for City Council? 

My heart, my passion, my love. I cannot address the other candidates’ hearts, but I can tell you, reader, that I desire to have a Tucson where each of us, all of us, can say: “This is #OurTucson.”

Paul Durham

How can Tucson leverage its City of Gastronomy designation to support food justice and access for everyone in our community? 

Tucson should leverage its well-deserved designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, the first city in the United States to receive it, for a number of reasons and in a number of ways.

First, why did we get it? There are many reasons, and my list will inevitably be incomplete. One reason is the long history of agriculture in our area—the longest of any city in North America. Another is the fine work of organizations like Native Seeds/SEARCH, with it’s extensive collection of desert-adapted seeds and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, working to expand access to healthy, local food for southern Arizona residents. And yes, another reason is chefs and restaurants, but not those you could find in any city in the U.S. It’s about chefs and restaurants that creatively use the unique food products of our desert environment.

The award, with our inputs of time and energy, will support marshaling resources of government, nonprofits and businesses to address food insecurity, food quality and nutrition in Tucson. Mayor Rothschild’s Commission on Food Security, Heritage, and Economy (CFSHE), with a broad mandate to address local food issues and help to develop a strong local food system, will no doubt be aided in achieving its goals by the award. If I’m elected, I’ll do everything I can to support CFSHE and ensure its success.

Additional government support is found in the seed library at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in downtown Tucson. Anyone with a library card can get six packets of seeds per month to address food security by growing their own food.

Market on the Move, a local nonprofit, addresses both food waste and food affordability by rescuing food that would otherwise end up in a landfill. For only a $10 donation anyone in Tucson can get up to 60 pounds of produce a week. If I’m elected, I’ll use the resources of the Ward 3 office to promote and publicize the excellent work of Market on the Move and other organizations addressing any aspect of food justice including access, affordability and waste.

There are many other examples of how a Councilmember and Ward office can work to leverage the City of Gastronomy award, including supporting and drawing attention to efforts like community gardens, gardens in schools, farmers markets and the San Xavier Co-Op Farm operated by the Tohono O’odham people.

In Ward 3, there are many areas without a convenient neighborhood supermarket. No one should be reliant on Circle K for groceries and the City needs to step up efforts to identify food deserts (where high calorie/low nutrient fast food is readily available but fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables are not), incentivize businesses that sell produce and foodstuffs to locate in those areas and ensure that they are well-integrated into Tucson’s public transit system.

The award will also help Tucson to develop a strong, local food economy. Visit Tucson, an organization promoting tourism in Tucson, publicizes the unique qualities of our food culture and local restaurants. The award will help Visit Tucson to attract outside investment and tourism to Tucson.

In my personal life, I am proud that my partner, Philippe Waterinckx, founded the Tucson Community Supported Agriculture (Tucson CSA) in 2004, and, when I’m not in the middle of a City Council campaign, I volunteer there. The Tucson CSA supports local organic farming by bringing farm products directly to consumers.

How will you lead and respond to climate change within the City and County? How does water conservation fit into your climate change policy?

After Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and abdicate our responsibility to address climate change, communities like Tucson need to step up to fill the void. I have a plan to power City of Tucson operations on 100% renewable energy by 2025 with a combination of solar installations on city buildings and other facilities, a large solar farm on city-owned land in Avra Valley and energy efficiency improvements in City buildings.

Water conservation is critical as we begin to feel the effects of climate change locally. Tucson does a good job of water conservation—right now Tucson uses as much water as it did in 1985 even though we have over 225,000 more residents—but we need to prepare for future water shortages.

At home, Philippe and I harvest water from our roof. We collect rainwater from 100% of the roof in a 10,000-gallon cistern in our backyard that fills once each year from the summer monsoons and once from the winter rains. With this one system, we save on average 20,000 gallons of water a year! Tucson Water has a very good rainwater harvesting program, but we need to encourage more people to take advantage of it.

Storm water drainage is a persistent issue in Tucson. I’d like to see the City take steps to put more of that water to use to offset our use of potable water and recharge our aquifer, rather than letting it flood our streets and washes.

To do that, Tucson Water should implement “One Water” or Integrated Water Management principles as soon as possible. These principles seek to get the maximum use out of every drop of water available to us and see storm water is a water resource just as much as groundwater or Central Arizona Project water. The goal is to implement cost-effective ways of using and storing storm water.

The updates to the urban agriculture zoning code, approved by the City Council in 2015, were a huge step forward in supporting a localized food shed in the city. What’s next? What policy changes would help support a robust local food economy?

Urban agriculture is a tremendous asset to Tucson and as someone who raised hens in my backyard for ten years, I know the City’s former rules were out-of-date. I strongly support and commend the 2015 updates. The 2015 updates reduced barriers to raising backyard chickens and planting vegetable gardens, and clarified rules for community gardens and farmers markets. Now we must be vigilant to ensure that Tucson’s rules regarding urban agriculture remain as up-to-date as the day they were adopted.

I mentioned above that my partner Philippe founded the Tucson CSA in 2004. The Tucson CSA often contributes surplus produce to Iskashitaa Refugee Network (a local nonprofit that addresses food access, affordability and waste by organizing refugees in year-round gleaning activities), and supports backyard chickens by offering to its members an outlet to sell their surplus eggs.

Promoting and supporting farmers markets, CSA’s and community gardens are actions the City can take to encourage a robust local food economy. I will work to ensure that these activities are not burdened by unnecessary regulations.

What sets you apart from the other candidates running for City Council? 

With Donald Trump in the White House, we need Democrats who will stand up for the people and groups in Tucson and the values that he is attacking—whether that’s women, refugees, immigrants, or our environment. I will stand up for these groups and interests, as well as pursue the goal of making City of Tucson operations 100% renewable-energy-powered by 2025. I believe that I have the knowledge, skills and experience to achieve this, as well as work to attract jobs that pay well and strengthen our great neighborhoods.

Tom Tronsdal

How can Tucson leverage its City of Gastronomy designation to support food justice and access for everyone in our community? 

It is important that all residents have access to fresh, quality food on a regular basis. A major component of the City’s designation is the quality of ingredients used by the various restaurants and chefs. The more restaurants use fresh food, then the more opportunities there are for local growers to thrive. Obviously, a local grower cannot only sell to commercial establishments but also to grocers and markets. The more food available for sale will make it affordable and ready for purchase in more places.

Additionally, the City must increase the number of grocers in our community. There are too many areas where there aren’t any accessible stores that feature fresh foods. Too many people end up buying their fruit from the 7-11 and that is wrong. New stores that are built in high-density areas on a road that can be reached safely by foot, bike or bus any time of the day should be a priority.

The City must also partner with local organizations to promote distribution of food within the community. Market on the Move, Community Food Bank and Salvation Army are just a few of the groups that help with food access in Tucson. The City has to support them in any way possible to further their mission.

How will you lead and respond to climate change within the City and County? How does water conservation fit into your climate change policy?

Climate change is an issue that must be dealt with now to avoid major damage in the near future. The City must look to all solutions to reduce our impact on the environment. Much of this comes from engagement with local committees (both independent and City-formed) to learn what can work best in our community. Actively listening to major stakeholders who want to reduce our impact on climate change is essential. The City must also find ways to reach the people who are not mitigating climate change in Tucson.

60% of the Ward don’t live in owner-occupied residences. How do we reach those owners who probably don’t have much incentive to reduce energy usage? The City has to provide education and resources for individuals to make a difference in their neighborhoods, even if they don’t own their home. It is important to have energy requirements for all new construction, but it is imperative that we find ways to help the structures that already exist.

Education and resources are important for the majority of my Ward since finances are a barrier for many improvements. They City has to reach people who need help both in resources and financially.

Water is key for a desert city like Tucson. Tucson has done a very good job in conservation for many years, but we have to remain vigilante. Our water use has remained the same level over the past 20 years even while our population has increased by 250,000. The majority of water use is actually agriculture, so the City needs to work closely with other government agencies and municipalities to ensure our water levels stay high and our water clean.

The updates to the urban agriculture zoning code, approved by the City Council in 2015, were a huge step forward in supporting a localized food shed in the city. What’s next? What policy changes would help support a robust local food economy?

The ability of residents to grow their own food and raise certain animals on their property is huge. The City has to protect these practices for our community. Not only does the agrarian use provide fresh food within the community, but also builds a sense of togetherness for our residents. Reducing the restrictions for urban growers was a key step for our localized food shed in the city. I would not so much change the current policy, but work to keep it from changing if it comes under attack again.

What sets you apart from the other candidates running for City Council? 

I have lived in the Ward for 30 years. This is my home and I want to make it better for not only my wife and son, but all residents.  I believe in increased access for all residents and want to empower people to be a part of the decision-making in the Ward. Too many people are not being heard these days and I want to change that status. We have to engage and empower our neighbors. Whether it has been as a resident, non-profit board member, parent or business owner – I understand the needs of all of our residents. I want to make sure everyone has a seat at the table and is treated equally.

Ward 6

Mike Cease

How can Tucson leverage its City of Gastronomy designation to support food justice and access for everyone in our community? 

This designation affords our community an opportunity to connect food justice with social, economic, and environmental justice. We need to improve transportation in order to improve food supply. Clean energy and readily available transit needs to be provided free of cost to everyone in the community as a basic necessity. We need to end what are known as “food deserts.” The insidious pervasiveness of “big Sugar” and the corporate processed food industry, which follows the playbook of “big Tobacco,” has led to an epidemic of diseases such as diabetes and has disproportionately impacted Native American and Latino communities. We need to connect the dots by integrating support for sustainable local food supply with support for providing healthy locally grown food for everyone in the community as a basic necessity. Furthermore, we will work with school districts to educate our children who will, in turn, educate their parents. We will work with school districts to end privatization of school lunches by corporations and replace this with locally grown, healthy and sustainable food supplies.

How will you lead and respond to climate change within the City and County? How does water conservation fit into your climate change policy?

Water conservation and water harvesting is a key component of the Cease for City Council platform. A Green New Deal is coming to Tucson. We will create thousands of local, fair-wage jobs retrofitting hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses with energy conservation, solar/renewable energy and water conservation/water harvesting. Not only is this strong program needed to respond to climate change, but also, it is vital that water conservation and water harvesting be dramatically expanded to support locally grown food, healthy sustainable food supplies as well as food justice, social justice, economic justice, and environmental justice.

The updates to the urban agriculture zoning code, approved by the City Council in 2015, were a huge step forward in supporting a localized food shed in the city. What’s next? What policy changes would help support a robust local food economy?

We need to incentivize groups such as the Community Food Bank, Casa Maria, Native Seeds Search, Heirloom Farmers Market, Food in Root, Food Conspiracy Co-op, and multiple Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups to connect healthy, locally grown food supply with low-income neighborhoods.

What sets you apart from the other candidates running for City Council? 

My campaign is a people’s campaign and we are here to change the status quo, to have a fair and just economy that works for everyone and not just for the top 1%. We will immediately pass a $15 per hour minimum wage as an important first step in bringing economic justice to our community. Our Green New Deal for Tucson will create thousands of local, fair-wage, clean-energy jobs retrofitting hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses with conservation, solar and water harvesting. We pass a strong Sanctuary Cities ordinance joining dozens of other cities nationwide in making Tucson a welcoming community for immigrants. We believe in worker’s rights and immigrant’s rights. We will stop environmental racism. Our campaign supports the Environmental Justice Task Force in bringing justice to the victims of TCE and 1,4 Dioxane contamination of our groundwater. “Water is Life!”

Michael Oatman

How can Tucson leverage its City of Gastronomy designation to support food justice and access for everyone in our community? 

The City’s UNSECO UCCN Creative Cities designation enables Tucson to partner with other UCCN cities worldwide to share ideas, solutions and policies regarding ending food deserts and requiring better nutrition in TUSD and other city public school systems, and for having tourism assist in providing financing for these solutions.

How will you lead and respond to climate change within the City and County? How does water conservation fit into your climate change policy?

Having the City properly respond to the challenges facing Tucson regarding Global Climate Change can and should be one or more of the added revenue streams which the City can use to reinvest into the community. Tucson City Council always says that there is never enough pie to go around, well, City Council needs to “expand the pie” by increasing revenues with individual ventures which gain City income without raising taxes. Tucson City Council can and should direct development to end food deserts, to increase nutrition in TUSD and other City school districts, fully insure and pension its employees, use Home Rule to govern land use, invest and subsidize 100% Net Metering rooftop/parking lot solar, encourage and build water catchment basins (if even just using curb cuts), encourage reuse and recycling with an addition trash fee, recycle water everywhere, and create Community Gardens / Urban Agriculture where there could be uses for infill. These measures will not only be good for the environment and the citizenry of Tucson, but will increase the revenue which the City can use to then reinvest in its populace and communities.

The updates to the urban agriculture zoning code, approved by the City Council in 2015, were a huge step forward in supporting a localized food shed in the city. What’s next? What policy changes would help support a robust local food economy?

Tucson City Council can and should continue supporting food banking, and should create Community Gardens / Urban Agriculture where there could be uses for infill. This will also serve to build stronger communities, particularly in under-served neighborhoods.

What sets you apart from the other candidates running for City Council? 

I am the most progressive of the four candidates running for Ward Six.

Steve Kozachik

How can Tucson leverage its City of Gastronomy designation to support food justice and access for everyone in our community? 

I’m not sure I’d directly tie our designation to our support of food justice. The designation serves a different purpose, tourism in particular. That said though, we have several other policies in place that support the goal of equitable food distribution and access to suitable food sources. For example, our strong support of the work done at the Community Food Bank, support for community gardens throughout the region, funding for social service agencies that have direct ties to the underserved. My Republican opponent (Rodriguez) supports Donald Trump. That means he supports the evisceration of social service funding which will have a direct impact on our ability to provide the support I’m describing.

How will you lead and respond to climate change within the City and County? How does water conservation fit into your climate change policy?

I hope you attended the Sustainable Tucson forum, or the Climate forum I organized last week at Temple Emanu-El, or the public hearing I called for during our last council session on climate. Involvement with any of those would demonstrate my strong advocacy for climate related issues. Water? Absolutely at the top of the list for local concerns. I’ve been active working with local water advocates to get Ducey’s attention in expanding the representation of water conservation voices on the Governor’s Water Augmentation Council. Google my op-ed in both the Star and Republic on that issue. I write regularly on the importance of Lake Mead, on the importance of the DCP, DCP+ and Intentionally Created Surplus negotiations as they relate to the CAP and our water supply. Add to that my advocacy of the UCAB work in relation to cleaning up TCE, 1,4 Dioxane and you’ll see my work in this area is serious and will continue.

The updates to the urban agriculture zoning code, approved by the City Council in 2015, were a huge step forward in supporting a localized food shed in the city. What’s next? What policy changes would help support a robust local food economy?

I’m working now with city attorneys to change our policy so we will begin allowing people to use curb cuts and bore holes to divert stormwater onto private property, enhancing the affordability of community gardens, even if they’re located out of the public right of way. That’s an immediate policy change I’m involved with.

What sets you apart from the other candidates running for City Council? 

My Republican opponent simply supports the Trump agenda on all things environmental. My work has been fully supportive of enhancing local initiatives when it comes to environmental issues. Beyond that, I’m a strong advocate on behalf of water security at the state level, and will continue to push for PACE legislation in order to make climate friendly capital investments affordable on a commercial scale. I’d encourage your members to sign up for my weekly newsletter; I write about all this stuff regularly.


Tucson City Council primary elections will be held on August 29, 2017. Go to tucsonaz.gov/clerks/elections to find more information about candidates, polling places, and upcoming elections. 

Header image by Jeff Smith. 







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