PROVINCETOWN — Oriana Conklin, 30, is running as a first-time candidate for select board. She believes she can bring some much-needed perspective: if elected, she said, she would be the youngest person on the board by almost 20 years, the only person of color (she is Japanese-American), and the only restaurant worker.
“Restaurant workers are the backbone of this community and our voices aren’t being heard,” Conklin said. Many in hospitality worked through the pandemic, she said, “to help people feel almost normal for a few hours.” But, she added, “it became clear there were not enough support groups or clinicians for the workers to turn to for support.” Conklin noted the town’s health dept. is developing plans to improve the situation, and she’d like to see the select board help move those along.
Her father, Tom Conklin, moved to Provincetown in the 1970s and started Tumbleweed Connection, a head shop and record store. Her mother, Tara Conklin, has retired from a career as a special education teacher in the local schools.
When Conklin was born, her family moved to Wellfleet. A graduate of Nauset Regional High School and Emmanuel College, she’s been working at restaurants in Boston and on the Cape for over 16 years. Her first job was at the Wicked Oyster in Wellfleet. Now, she serves as the general manager for Local 186 restaurant and Enzo Guest House, which are in the same building on Commercial Street.
“Where do I even begin?” Conklin said when asked about her ideas on affordable housing. “It is really hard to put roots down here and get involved in community when your housing situation is not secure and you’re constantly moving between temporary summer and winter places.” More people, she believes, are coming to recognize that this is “absolutely a crisis.”
Conklin has some ideas about remedies, though. “As long as people in town support it,” she said, “I would propose that we build a two- or three-story parking garage in the back of Grace Hall. If we do that, we can use some of the rest of that land to build housing. It’s already developed. We’re not taking any unused space.”
Another move that could improve the housing crisis, Conklin said, would be the expansion of the town’s wastewater treatment system.
Housing isn’t the only issue Conklin is interested in. Lack of equitable internet access is, in her view, another factor preventing Provincetown from being an accessible, viable year-round community.
“Internet access is a human right,” she said. “We should have municipally-owned internet access.” Town-wide internet access would, Conklin said, help level the playing field and also make Provincetown a more attractive year-round location for people working remote jobs, a phenomenon that she believes is likely to continue even after the pandemic.
Conklin is also concerned about the Outer Cape’s fragile environment. “The coastline has changed so much just since I was growing up,” she said. Two and a half years on Provincetown’s conservation commission has given her insights, she said, into the work of flood prevention and dune restoration.
Conklin wants to see a new police station built. “But we need to build consensus on what that plan is going to be,” she said, as she rolled up her sleeves.
When we do have that new police station, Conklin thinks that Provincetown can work to change its policing practices. “We have a chance here to really redesign what we want to see out of our police department,” she said.
The goal, she said, should be to make policing more about fostering healthy and helpful relationships with community members. “There should be a mental health clinician on site at the station,” she said. “There are so many calls to the station, and you don’t need a police officer for all of them. It’s a waste of resources. Anything aimed at crisis de-escalation, I am 100 percent for.”
As for the Provincetown Fire Dept., Conklin stated that she is against regionalization: “We need firefighters to be able to be at an emergency at the drop of a hat.” She said that, while Provincetown has one of the best departments she knows, its reputation is threatened by the numbers of people who are forced to move out of town due to increasingly unaffordable rents.
“I hate to repeat myself,” Conklin said, “but it really is housing first.”
“We need to incentivize people to stay in town,” she said. “Our friends and neighbors are moving out. When that keeps happening, what you have is a crisis of community.”
Candidate Conklin’s campaign website is orianaconklin.com.