In an effort to inform Evanston voters about candidates for the Second and Ninth wards, the RoundTable sent out a standard questionnaire to each person running for the council seat of either ward. Today, we are publishing responses from candidates, which you can find in one place here

Early voting opened at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Monday, March 20, and Election Day is Tuesday, April 4.

Juan Geracaris

Juan Geracaris. Credit: Richard Cahan

Provide your occupation (if you’re a consultant, please describe what type of consulting work you do), recent civic/volunteer activities, educational background, and time you have lived in Evanston.

I’m a systems administrator at the Kellogg School of Management. I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Northwestern University. I’ve lived and worked in Evanston for just under 30 years and have lived in the Ninth ward since 2007. As a community member, I am a founder and vice president of Evanston Latinos, a nonprofit formed during the pandemic to serve and advocate for our Latinx and immigrant community. I’ve served in PTA leadership at Oakton Elementary as a vice president, Two-Way Immersion liaison, and garden chair. I’m on the board of Next Steps Evanston. We provide diversity and inclusion and anti-racism training and programming to D65 parents and guardians. I am a founder of Evanston Skates, a skate park advocacy group that worked to make the pop-up skate park at Ridgeville and Twigg’s skate park possible. 

What do you see as the top three challenges facing the city of Evanston in the next few years, and how would you address them? 

Affordable housing: Housing costs are rising and we are seeing longtime Evanstonians move because they can no longer afford to live here. There are adults who grew up in Evanston who can’t afford to buy or rent here. I would like to see us make zoning changes to facilitate naturally occurring affordable units, such as additional dwelling units. I am working on the Housing Committee to update our inclusionary housing ordinance and raise the number of affordable units built in every development. We have to be ready to purchase property when the opportunity presents itself. 

Climate action: We need innovative ways to help homeowners be more climate resilient. Adding solar and new energy-efficient infrastructure to homes is expensive. The one-stop shop program to retrofit low- to middle-income homes is one program we will start soon. We need to incentivize electrification of buildings and move away from natural gas use. There are building code changes coming soon that could bring opportunities to facilitate these changes and I have ideas how to leverage that. 

Finances: We recently fully financed police and fire pensions, which is a step in the right direction. We have to find more revenue sources. Bringing more residents to Evanston would be a great help. The COVID pandemic has caused a backload of capital projects and we will have to continue to evaluate which projects need to happen and which have to be further delayed.

Name one thing that you think the current council has done well and one thing that it could have done better in the last three years and provide your reasons.

One thing I am proud of has been the purchases of property to be used for affordable housing. Council has approved the acquisition of properties on Emerson and Jackson and the laundromat at 739 Howard. These were rare situations to gain site control of significant chunks of land. If we didn’t act, those properties would have been purchased by large developers. This gives us the chance to partner with developers and assure those sites have a high percentage of affordable units and not market-rate housing. 

We have to be better about the stewardship of the city properties that we own. We are facing hard decisions because maintenance and upkeep of some key properties have been delayed. 

The council appears to have drawn a line against raising property taxes in favor of raising fees and fines, such as parking and waste disposal. Where do you stand on taxes vs. fees and fines?

I see raising property taxes as strictly a last option for balancing the budget. We have a lot of seniors in town on a fixed budget and one of my goals is to make sure they can afford to stay here. People shared that their property value had jumped and their tax bills were higher than ever. I would be very hesitant to compound on that by adding an additional percentage of property tax that the city would take.

I don’t think that fines are the way to balance budgetary items either. Fines tend to adversely affect poor and working class people. A $100 fine could be the difference for some families in being able to balance their monthly budget.

Fees are more justifiable to raise in my opinion. There can be a clear correlation between the money you’re spending and the service you are receiving. Ultimately I would like us to look into new revenue streams and increase the tax base by promoting new developments around town.

Where do you stand on the proposed fair work week ordinance and ban on cashless businesses? 

The Fair Work Week ordinance is a work in progress. I think residents and local businesses agree that workers’ rights deserve to be protected. I’ve met with local small businesses and as written there are parts of the ordinance that would cause a lot of administrative overhead. Many shared that their employees handle the scheduling changes on their own and this would limit the flexibility that a lot of their workers enjoy. We could be mirroring our ordinance to Chicago’s in terms of the number of employees required before needing to meet the reporting terms of the ordinance. I think most of our smaller employers are good partners with their employees. This could be a good opportunity to showcase that with a Fair Work Week pledge for businesses that are under that number.

I feel strongly that businesses should accept cash. The ACLU agrees. Unhoused and undocumented communities have a high percentage of people who do not have access to a credit card or bank account. A resident shared with me that a lot of students they interact with at ETHS do not have credit cards. I don’t want the city to be punitive or play a zero-sum game when writing legislation. Staff are researching cash-to-card stations and their cost to purchase. The city could possibly purchase them for small businesses who can’t change their business model. 

The city continues to look at selling the Morton Civic Center and possibly moving city offices to the downtown area. Where do you think city offices should be located? What should be done with the 2100 Ridge Ave. property?

City offices should be in a central location and easily accessible. The Civic Center needs a lot of work. I would not want to sell that property. The park is a great resource we can’t lose and its ample parking makes it ideal for community events. In its current state, it’s not a really great office or working space and parts of the building are underutilized. We should be creative and explore all possibilities. An indoor farmers market would be great for example. With an asset this important, we really need to have all options on the table so we can best decide how to proceed. 

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Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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