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City Council needs member with dedication, vision and stomach to get things done (opinion)


Submitted by Ilya Arbatman

We need more progressive activists in city government. We need more community organizers, more grassroots get-things-done-ers. We need more people of color. We need more down-to-earth, personable, accountable and approachable – as in, “Hey, Council member! Can we talk about something?” – people. 

We need Lily Baran.

Full disclosure: Lily has been a friend of mine for several years now. But that’s an essential part of my endorsement. Lily has strong, real ties to so many people here in Reno (and Sparks!). Not shake-your-hand-while-they-shake-you-down-for-something ties, or hug-you-for-an-Instagram-selfie ties, but legitimate, personal connections forged through organizing, mutual aid, community gardening, activism and public speaking, legislative lobbying, and so many other kinds of grassroots work.

I feel disillusioned by and disappointed in our current City Council, as they do not seem to have the stomach or dedication to guide our city through the challenging times ahead. Two resignations in such a short period – first, Neoma Jardon (Ward 5) and now Oscar Delgado (Ward 3 – my ward) – coupled with a mayoral contest between two candidates who are both unable to articulate any coherent future for Reno beyond trite soundbites like “affordable housing” and “public safety” – all of this leaves me deeply concerned that we have neither a vision for tomorrow nor the ideas or know-how to achieve it.

Lily, on the other hand, has proven that she can tackle complex issues head-on, on the direct, local scale as well as on the big-picture, policy level. In 2020, she energetically led a sustained grassroots movement to hold Sparks Police Department accountable for their killing of 18-year-old Miciah Lee. Lily worked together with Lee’s mother and a dedicated group of activists from the community, organizing through direct actions – such as a die-in in front of the Washoe County District Attorney’s office – and legal channels to demand body cam footage and aid Lee’s family in their fight for justice. 

Most recently, Lily, who is currently employed doing policy work for the ACLU, helped to research and publish an “In-Depth Guide of Homelessness in Washoe County,” an independent, fact-and-figures-based audit of our region’s successes and failures in addressing the needs of our unhoused community.

Lily Baran speaks about the new homelessness white paper on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022 at The Holland Project. Katie Colling is at left. Image: Bob Conrad / THIS IS RENO.

Lily has hands-on experience with policy and legislation from her work as attaché to Nevada Assemblywoman Summers-Armstrong during the legislative session. Lily also has hands-on experience handing out hygiene kits, food, clothing and other essentials at countless mutual aid pop-ups and initiatives all around the Reno-Sparks Area. Her house is the site of an impressive community garden that generously feeds people and stands as a hopeful symbol for a more sustainable future. 

Lily has spent plenty of time at and around City Hall – she has made public comments and presentations from the podium on an array of important local issues, met directly with Council members and city staff to brainstorm and implement creative solutions to tackling homelessness, and even camped out for a week at City Plaza to demand an end to the city’s cruel and counterproductive sweeps of our unhoused neighbors. She sincerely invited others from the Council to join her – needless to say, her invitation was rudely ignored.

Of course, Lily’s list of qualifications goes on. She sits on the board of the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (R.I.S.E) as co-president. She is an enthusiastic partner of Black Wall Street, who recently added an Overdose Aid Kit to the community fridge and pantry site at Lily’s house. 

As a direct result and follow-through of her advocacy for Miciah Lee and his family, Lily now sits on the Sparks Police Advisory Committee. She’s also a teacher, a performer and a mom to a bright and fearless teenage son. She’s a proud woman of color whose voice is badly needed on a city council that represents only a small, privileged slice of our community. 

Like many of us, Lily is frustrated that a summary appointment is taking the place of a true, democratic process to elect a new member of the council. 

Nevertheless, let’s compromise with the bureaucratic red-tape excuse and take a lesson from Lily’s playbook. Grassroots action does work: get involved and support Lily Baran for the Ward 3 City Council appointment. Email the mayor and the rest of the council to let them know that Lily is without a doubt the right candidate. Give public comment in support of Lily’s appointment at the Ward 3 NAB meeting, Oct. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall and again at the Oct. 12 10 a.m. City Council meeting, also at City Hall. 

If she is chosen as a finalist, there will be two hybrid meet-and-greets, one on Tuesday, Oct. 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Evelyn Mount Community Center and one on Wednesday, Oct. 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Neil Road Recreation Center. Council will decide on the appointment at their meeting on Oct. 26 – mark your calendars to make public comment then, as well.

Please – don’t just take all this from me: go meet Lily, talk to her, and make up your own mind. Lily will be hosting “community compost” sessions every Thursday at 5 p.m. at her home and community garden at 638 Elko Avenue. She encourages you to come by, ask her questions and share your vision for the future of the ward (bring gloves).

Ilya Arbatman is a Ward 3 resident, small business owner, and community advocate. He currently sits on the Ward 3 Neighborhood Advisory Board.

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