Concern for Mountain View's middle class families struggling to pay increasing rents has inspired Mountain View resident and family law attorney Mercedes Salem to run for City Council.
"I have people in my apartment complex who are Stanford (employees) and they find it hard to make it," Salem said. "I want to help make the residents of Mountain View thrive instead of just survive. We have so many high-paid workers who are having a hard time. That's become the norm. I'm a single person -- I don't have a spouse or children, and it is still not always easy, but I can't imagine what it's like for people with families. I worry about them. If families in the neighborhood aren't doing well then I don't think we can say our city is doing well."
As a 39-year old renter in the Sylvan Park area, Salem says she aims to represent the large population in the city that rents housing -- about 60 percent of the Mountain View residents. There hasn't been a renter on the City Council in many years, but Salem is one of three in this year's race, along with Ellen Kamei and Jim Neal.
Salem moved to the United States from Iran when she was a year old with a Green Card and said she chose to become a citizen at age 18 to be able to participate in elections, voting for Ralph Nader for president in 1992. If elected, she said she would be Mountain View's first Middle Eastern council member. She says there are only three other Iranian elected officials in the U.S., including San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
"If I were to be elected and eventually become mayor, I'd be the first Iranian American mayor in the nation," she said.
She says the "overarching theme" of her campaign is to help middle class families, and her top priorities are housing, the environment, city infrastructure and services.
In this election, "housing is 100 percent the main issue," she said, but she also wants the city to find other ways to help lower costs for families, such as by providing more low-cost summer camps for kids.
With many residents discussing rent control as a solution to the city's increasingly painful rent increases, Salem says she sees rent control as something that would be "useful" to have a conversation about.
"Being an attorney, I absolutely do believe in individual property rights," she said. "I'll tell you as renter, my rents have increased about $550 in three years -- that's outrageous."
But she adds that just to say, "I'm for rent control" doesn't seem reasonable. "There's so many ways a rent control ordinance can be drafted. There are some unreasonable rent control ordinances that put too high a restraint (on landlords). Others are so lax that they are not really doing what they say they set out to do," she said.
She says she has a pragmatic approach to fixing the city's jobs-housing imbalance, which she says is "quite out of balance." She says the city needs to plan for more housing and less office space, especially in the San Antonio area.
"I am opposed to housing that's not thoughtful," Salem said. "We're small city with 12 square miles. No matter how much we build, we are not going to meet demand because housing is not just Mountain View's problem, it's a regional problem. Develop it well and have it be meaningful for the community. That building is going to be there long after we've come and gone."
Salem said she fell in love with Mountain View when she moved here four years ago. She spent the previous four years in Washington, D.C., after graduating with a law degree from Santa Clara University and growing up in West San Jose. She worked as an aide for Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, a legislative fellow for Pennsylvania Democrat Patrick Murphy and legal counsel for Southern California Democrat Linda Sanchez.
"My background is public policy and community activism," Salem said. "I can't remember a time in my life when I haven't been involved in my community."
Salem says she was a peer counselor in high school, a member of the the student government at Santa Clara University and the president of the college's Middle Eastern Law Student Association.
"Being heavily involved in legislative process, I understand how to get things done in a bureaucracy," she said. "It's not always easy and doesn't always happen, but I understand how to really persevere."
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