For the record, the League of Women Voters of Salem (LWVS) canceled the Ward 7 councilor candidate forum because incumbent Councilor Stephen Dibble did not respond to numerous requests for him to confirm his participation. He did not decline to participate; he simply left us hanging with no indication of when he might give us an answer. Finally, on the evening of 16 October, we canceled the forum planned for 22 October. If you’d like to read the details, click here.
Andy Varela is a proud husband, father, Ward 7 resident, hard working farmer, and business owner in Salem. Andy and his wife Holly (Maitland), own and run Maitland Mountain Farm — Salem’s only revenue producing agricultural production business.
Andy was raised in Laguna Hills, CA. Growing up in Southern California, Andy and his brothers were raised to value hard work — he entered his first job as a kitchen runner and banquet catering staff at the young age of 15. This began his interest in food sources and passion for culinary arts. Andy earned his BA in digital media and advertising from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. In 2006, Andy made Salem his home, after meeting Holly while working as a personal chef in New York.
Andy has invested his entire professional and personal life in Salem, and is dedicated to ensuring that Salem continues to grow as an innovative city; putting emphasis on local businesses, culture, and diversity, while remaining accessible for all residents.
Why are you running for Councilor and what particular skills can you bring to the position?
I am running for city council because we live in a very special and exciting community that has helped my family grow. I want to do my part, to be collaborative and productive, to help keep Salem moving forward. This is an exciting time for Salem and I see many opportunities to make us a more inclusive community, opportunities to make Salem a more sustainable and resilient place to live, and ways we might better represent and serve Salem’s more marginalized residents. I recognize that we face significant challenges in each of these somewhat complicated areas, but I believe there are incremental solutions, actions that we can take now, which will help move these issues forward for the betterment of the city and our residents. As a parent of two young children who has joined a multi-generational Salem family, I believe it is of the utmost importance to ensure Salem is a thriving community that is safe and affordable for all residents, including seniors and young families.
I bring to the Council the hard-skills of a small, hands-on, business owner: I am an action-oriented, creative problem solver, a collaborative team player who is also able to take decisive action for the best of the brand, and believe in ethical, fair, team leadership. From a soft-skills perspective, I bring to the Council a compassionate listening ear and the ability to focus dialogue for clarity always driving toward a productive outcome.
What are some of your proposed solutions towards resolving the housing crisis in Salem?
It’s time to get creative to support long-term growth and accessibility in Salem but I believe the best place to start is to implement zoning overlay on municipal and religious buildings that are not in current use, and to move forward with the accessory dwelling unit ordinance. Salem has a young workforce who is unable to live here, senior citizens who are unable to either stay in their homes or downsize due to rental rates and real estate pricing, and 238 homeless children currently attending our public schools. These two ordinances would offer additional options for housing in Salem that would ease the pressure on the market. I understand that the proposed solutions presently in front of the City Council are not perfect, but I believe it’s an important and necessary start to improving Salem’s housing shortage and affordability. We need to take action for our residents!
How do you see Salem impacted by the climate crisis and what new initiatives would you take to lead Salem's resiliency efforts?
Concerning the climate crisis, we need to put more emphasis, and expand where possible, on programs currently in place in Salem such as the “Living Coastline” program and the other eco-friendly solutions through Salem Sound Coastwatch. Their work on helping preserve and restore our salt marsh streams, estuaries, beaches and Salem Sound watershed, including tracking our water quality and their educational work has had a direct impact on how Salem is poised to face rising water levels and erosion. We need to continue to research and publicize creative ways to stem the changes that are coming to Salem’s coast. More funding needs to be sourced and then allocated towards updating existing infrastructure, implementing new technologies off our coastline, on the ground restoration projects like salt marsh and anadromous fish habitat restoration, and stormwater remediation.
Please outline some ideas you have that can enhance civic engagement at the city level.
Some ideas I have for improving civic engagement at the city level include:
To better connect residents of Ward 7 and beyond with the actions of the City by ensuring my constituents know what meetings, committees, and volunteer opportunities are available to them.
I believe that utilizing a digital polling platform as a means of collecting resident feedback in a more accessible way would enable more residents to be a part of the conversation on issues like local development projects, election topics, budgets, community art projects, and public transportation routes.
By and large, many residents feel it’s difficult to find information on the City’s website and many are skeptical about using mobile apps that aren’t specifically branded or hosted by the City of Salem; I’m very interested in seeking ways to make digital engagement with our citizens work better for everyone — whether through ensuring Ward 7 constituents are well informed on the current tools or researching, testing, and implementing new and improved tools, and taking a look at the way the City’s website functions and where information lives.
At their core, my ideas for improving civic engagement are about easy access to information