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Yepsen Seeks More Inclusive Saratoga Springs

Lucas Willard

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen delivered her annual State of the City address Monday evening. But before diving into her speech, the second-term Democrat took time to comment on national politics.

“And the home of the brave…”

Singers from Saratoga Springs High School opened Mayor Joanne Yepsen’s fourth State of the City address with the national anthem.

After taking the stage following an introduction from Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Yepsen prefaced her annual speech by commenting on national politics.

In recent days, the Trump administration has defended its immigration policy, banning individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.. Yepsen, a Democrat, joined the chorus of opposition to the policy that sparked protests in airports across the country and around the world over the weekend.

“I have a thorough speech planned for you all this evening, but because of last weekend’s events in our nation, I wanted to say something first. Our Constitutional rights are not Republican rights, they’re not Democrat rights. They are the rights held by all Americans and we should honor them above all else,” said Yepsen.

Yepsen said the only rights that should matter are human rights.

Before outlining her priorities, Yepsen, like in previous years, read update reports from the four city Commissioners.

In his report, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen bemoaned the appearance of hateful graffiti after Election Day.

“There are indications that racism and intolerance may be on the rise in our city. Swastikas and white supremacy blogs are appearing. We have the responsibility to do whatever is necessary to educate our youth about the history of slavery, racist policies, anti-semitism, and the terrible impact on innocent people and on our world in general,” read Yepsen.

A mysterious Instagram page attributed to “Saratoga High School Fourth Reich” vanished soon after it appeared in early January. The page spurred an investigation by district administration in cooperation with the police.

Making Saratoga Springs a more inclusive city was a central pillar of Yepsen’s vision for 2017.

She announced her intent to put together a Human Rights Commission, and said several city residents have stepped forward asking how they could help.

“We got such an amazing response during the Martin Luther King programming. And I think people are very hungry for figuring out ways we can better educate each other of our differences and work together to promote and unify this city,” said Yepsen.

As the city booms and real estate prices soar, Yepsen addressed inequalities in housing for low-to-moderate income families and seniors.

Yepsen in her address pushed for a proposal from the Sustainable Saratoga group that would require new apartment buildings dedicate a portion of units to be affordable.

Recently, more than 400 units of housing were announced for the city’s West Side. The 10-building project would include a five-story hotel and commercial space. Another development project is in the planning stages and has not yet been formally announced.

“All said, if this all happens, we may have enough workforce housing where an inclusionary zoning will be a moot point, but I don’t know if we can count on that yet. So we’re going to make sure that we work with all of our tools in our toolbox and we make sure that we move these initiatives forward,” said Yepsen.

A similar inclusionary zoning proposal was brought forward a decade ago but failed.

Also looking ahead, Yepsen said she will focus on ending homelessness and finding a permanent home for the city’s Code Blue program and implant the city’s Complete Streets plan.

A major development around the corner is a special election for a change to the city’s form of government set by the city’s Charter Review Commission for May 30th, though members of the city council have expressed reservations about the date. 

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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