Getting to Know the Santa Clara City Council Candidates
The Santa Clara Weekly is running a series of profiles on political candidates in the November election -- this article focuses on city council seat four candidate Raj Chahal.
By David Alexander

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Getting to know the Santa Clara City Council candidates

Raj Chahal wants to represent you on the Santa Clara City Council.

Chahal has served on the Santa Clara Planning Commision since 2013.

Previously, he served on the Charter Review Committee. He is the president of the Santa Clara Sister Cities Association. Since 2014, he has served on the Santa Clara City Library Foundation and Friends board. He has two Master’s degrees -- one in business and another in physics.

Chahal sought the appointment for the seat vacated by Lisa Gillmor back in May, a seat to which the Council ended up appointing Kathy Watanabe, but ended up seeking election for Jerry Marsalli’s seat after Marsalli opted not to seek reelection in the wake of health issues.

Throughout his civic engagement, Chahal said he has gained a better understanding of the community’s sensibilities. His time on the Planning Commission has given him a “better perspective on the general plan and how growth is happening,” he added.

He said decisions on planned developments come from the “top down” instead of the “bottom up,” something he aims to remedy. However, community involvement cuts both ways, he said. The Council is not “involving the community” the way it should to ensure the city is aware of citizens’ concerns, he added.

Part of the problem, Chahal said, is that the budget earmarks money for all kinds of projects but leaves out one key element.

“There is no budget to engage the residents,” he said. “I don’t think we have any budget for community involvement, and I want a line item separately, so we can involve our community.”

If elected, he said he would like to see the budget distributed with this goal in mind, but also add to the budget to fund community involvement. The city, he said, spends too much money on “beautification” saying those things “are not needed.”  

Through his three-word mantra “inform, consult, involve,” Chahal strives to enhance citizen input in governmental decisions. To enhance that involvement, Chahal is proposing dividing the city into seven regions and assigning a council member to each region on a rotating basis.

Chahal said he believes he is the best person for the job because he is very “independent,” “analytical” and “ethical.”

“I make my decision analytically after studying the materials,” he said. “I look at what is doable and what is not doable, and I challenge developers.”

“I do my homework, and I want staff to do that,” he later added.

He said the city’s financial analysis of the Related project is inaccurate, saying that, according to his estimates, the city could have preserved 110 acres -- including the BMX track -- of open space, which would have generated the same, or “at least 50 percent,” the same revenue over the same period.

Saving that land would also help mitigate traffic, he said. Because of Santa Clara’s location, its growth has been so accelerated that it creates other problems.

“Sometimes we don’t look after the interests of ordinary residents. We are paying more attention to the growth,” he said. “My idea is have a smart balance -- control and analyze.”

He said he is “not aligned with any special interests.” specifically developers, the San Francisco 49ers and anyone from “the capitalistic point of view.”

One area that illustrates a lack of “smart balance,” he said is the jobs-to-housing ratio, which is too high, a problem that the city has created. Mixed-use developments can help bridge that gap. Placement of high-density housing needs to be better thought out, he added.

However, development isn’t his only concern. Education is also very important. He said he would like to reach out to local businesses as a liaison to see if private money can help provide between five and 10 times as many scholarships. While he is excited to see the city grow, he said the city needs to be equally concerned with the “happiness index” of its citizens. Happiness is not born only out of wealth, he said.   

“It is a social responsibility of the government as well as the private sector,” he said. “I want to bring business more completely into this aspect of community building.”

“As a team player, I want to collaborate different pillars of our society,” he added.