Before completing the city’s Chinese Language Civic Leadership Academy earlier this year, 20-year Mountain View resident Li Zhang didn’t realize local government meetings were open to the public, let alone that residents had the opportunity to participate in them. After graduating from the program, Zhang spent this summer tuning into City Council meetings, speaking up at the city’s R3 Zoning Update series and poring over the draft Housing Element.
“I gained a lot of knowledge, and gradually, later in the summer I started becoming concerned a little bit due to the really fast development, especially housing development, in the city,” Zhang, a senior finance manager at Tesla, said in an interview. “Since I’ve lived here for such a long time, I really want to make sure that as the city grows, we have a quality of life that’s really sustainable.”
Zhang is channeling her concerns into a bid for the Mountain View City Council: after pulling candidate papers just days before the filing deadline, Zhang qualified for the ballot and will be vying for one of three seats this November. She and Justin Cohen are the two newcomers to the race who will compete alongside three incumbents (Lucas Ramirez, Alison Hicks and Ellen Kamei).
“If I were elected to the City Council, I would like to ensure that the new developments be compatible with existing neighborhoods,” Zhang said. “The parks need to keep up with the population growth, and residents (need to) still have easy access to goods and services. That’s my main reason I want to run for City Council.”
Zhang first moved to Mountain View more than 20 years ago after graduating from University of California, San Diego with a PhD in chemistry and taking a job in Palo Alto at a major pharmaceutical company.
“That’s how I settled in Mountain View,” Zhang said. “I never moved out of the city. I really like it here, it’s very diversified.”
After her son was born in 2006, Zhang decided it was time for a career change, so she went back to school and got her master's degree in financial engineering from University of California, Berkeley. She’s worked at Tesla since 2017.
Her decision to run for City Council came as "a little surprise to myself, too," Zhang said. By chance, Zhang heard about Mountain View's Chinese Language Civic Leadership Academy from a fellow parent at her son’s high school earlier this year.
“I applied and I got accepted, so I attended that academy and learned how local government works. I was really inspired,” Zhang said. “I’m an immigrant and I grew up in Beijing, and I never really knew there was so much you can do to contribute to the city.”
If elected, Zhang said she’d like to see a “comprehensive review of the general plan.”
“I’d look at the city as a whole, not just neighborhood by neighborhood,” Zhang said. “I’ve attended a couple workshops for either the Housing Element or R3 upzoning. It just seems to me it's very segmented. … I’m not sure it’s super productive. The general plan hasn’t been reviewed for quite some time.”
Zhang acknowledged that she still has a lot to learn about the issues Mountain View is facing.
“I’ve only been really involved in attending meetings since the beginning of the summer,” Zhang said. “If I’m elected I do want to do a much deeper dive. As a researcher, I do want to understand all these matters.”
But, she believes her fresh perspective would be an asset if elected.
“I’m not political; I’ve never had a political career,” Zhang said. “In my career, I have been a force of bringing all parties together to create realistic and pragmatic solutions. I want to bring a new perspective to help out Mountain View residents who are just like me.”
Another top priority issue for Zhang is pedestrian and bicycle safety. As a parent, the issue hits close to home for her.
“My son bikes to Mountain View High School. He complains, as well as his classmates, about how narrow the bike lanes are,” she said. “It’s right next to the cars. That’s my concern. There was one kid who was killed at the intersection of Grant and El Camino -– that’s very upsetting to the community.”
Zhang tied this issue back to her concerns over unfettered housing growth. She questioned how future housing developments on Grant Road will impact traffic and potentially make already busy streets more crowded.
“I’m hoping there’s some way that we can make the road wider for cyclists,” she said.
Speaking to another hot-button issue, Zhang said she supports the decision of city voters to ban oversized vehicles from parking in Mountain View, though she understands the city is in a tough position in regard to enforcement.
“I don’t think RVs should park on a busy street. I think a lot of residents are upset in that neighborhood because there are all these pollutants, the sewage, personal waste,” Zhang said. “Due to the lawsuit, there’s nothing they (the city) can do at this point (to enforce the ban). I’m very sympathetic with the residents in the area.”
When asked about a potential solution – where RV dwellers should go if the ban was enforced – Zhang said it’s a complicated issue for the city to handle on its own.
“This is not a local issue, it’s a regional issue. If they don’t park here, they have to park somewhere,” she said. “I don’t have an answer for that.”
Zhang asked for Mountain View voters’ trust in her as she continues to learn about the ins and outs of local government.
“I hope they have faith in me that I do have their interests in mind, because I’m just one of them,” Zhang said. “I want to be their voice.”