When people think of a mayor, they don’t typically imagine an energetic 27-year-old woman running one of the wealthiest cities in California. But Tara Campbell of Yorba Linda isn’t the average politician, and uses her uniqueness to her advantage.
“I remember when I would tell people, ‘Oh, I’m the mayor,’ some people would do a double-take because you are not expecting somebody in their 20s to be mayor,” Campbell told The Epoch Times.
But as Campbell has proven, youth isn’t necessarily a hindrance. Since joining Yorba Linda council, Campbell has helped engage local youth and educate them about the workings of local governments. She also helped modernize outdated procedures and introduced new technologies that help the city run more efficiently.
She began her second term in office Dec. 1.
Campbell became inspired to join Yorba Linda council in 2014, when there were efforts to recall Councilmembers Craig Young and Tom Lindsey. Ultimately, they weren’t recalled, but Campbell saw council was divided and there was an opportunity to provide much-needed solutions.
“Unfortunately, we were getting a reputation of long council meetings and councilmembers not being able to get along, and it was really halting a lot of progress for our city on either big projects or just being able to move forward in a positive direction,” she said.
Campbell was elected to city council in 2016, at age 23. She previously spent two years as chair pro tem on Yorba Linda’s parks and recreation commission.
She was initially sworn in as mayor in 2019 at 25 years old. She said she did “experience some ageism” with others in local leadership underestimating her ability.
“I knew the issues of our city, and I was willing to listen to what their issues were and then most importantly, I had tangible ideas for what to do.”
Campbell shared a story about an older constituent who voted for her based on the leadership she displayed as recreation commission chairwoman.
“He was like, ‘that’s the leadership that I want on the city council,’” she said. “And so, somebody in their 70s was supporting the 23-year-old who was running for council, because it didn’t matter your age.”
Aside from the parks and recreation commission, Campbell was previously the communications director for Supervisor Andrew Do. She’s currently chief of staff for Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner.
Campbell values education. She received a master’s degree in public administration with a certificate of public policy from the University of Southern California (USC). She also has bachelor’s degrees in political science and broadcast and digital journalism from USC.
She created the Young Civic Leaders Academy, a six-week nonpartisan program for high school students that teaches the ins and outs of government.
“I created it because I felt like I didn’t want our next generation growing up with this disdain toward government,” Campbell said.
“I always jokingly say I grew up with my dad yelling at the politicians on the TV, which I’m sure we’re all used to, but … I just didn’t want people to have this disdain for those who are representing them.”
She said one of her goals was to “demystify city hall and and government and local government” because in high school, students learn about national politics but not local-level affairs.
“I’ve had a student who interned for Yorba Linda Chamber of Commerce and now got hired to work for them, students who’ve interned for our congressman or senator assemblymember, and I’ve had students who shadowed our city manager,” she said.
“It’s just really been exciting to see because I think we’ve all seen this energy and eagerness from the younger generation to get involved and they don’t really know where. I want to be able to show them a positive way and a proactive way that they can get involved.”
Modernizing the City
Some of her proudest accomplishments serving Yorba Linda have been the technological advancements she’s brought to the table.
“Our city was doing paper time cards,” Campbell said with a laugh. “We had a long way to go in terms of technology, and really it’s about being efficient and effective at city hall because we serve the people and the better, more effective processes that we have, the better we’re able to serve the public.”
She said the council didn’t have any social media platforms four years ago, but she was able to introduce new processes utilizing different platforms to get messaging out to the public.
“It was really important to have city hall connecting and sharing what’s happening with our community, and most importantly getting feedback from them,” she said.
She also catapulted the city’s “citizen request tracker,” which is a program on its website where residents can upload photos of city maintenance issues to the city website, and it will geotag the location. Public works staff will be able to go out and fix it within the week and then report back to that resident.
Supporting Small Businesses
Next year, Campbell’s main goal will be to help the small businesses get the support they need to bounce back from shutdowns.
“I’ve gotten a ton of phone calls from small businesses and it’s just gut wrenching to hear the stories. As a city we’ve tried to do everything we possibly can on our level,” she said.
She said so far only two small businesses have had to permanently close in the city.
When CARES Act funding was given to the city, Campbell said it was immediately distributed to 200 small businesses, each given a $10,000 grant. When the state permitted outdoor dining, Yorba Linda immediately allowed for temporary use permits to restaurants and other businesses who could operate outdoors.
A Drive to Serve
As a government official, her social life looks a bit different than most.
“I do still have friends, I promise,” she joked. Even still she spends a lot of her time off out connecting with the community at large; she may be at a ribbon cutting ceremony welcoming a new business, or attending a grand opening.
“I love being able to help people,” she said. “A lot of that is sometimes on my off days I’m meeting with constituents, or going to ribbon cuttings, but I really love doing that.
“My friends always jokingly say, ‘Oh, are you going to a grand opening?’”
Her Catholic faith is important to her, too, and she takes pride in growing up in such a religiously diverse community. Yorba Linda has the most churches per capita in Orange County.
“We have every religion in almost every language you could possibly think in Yorba Linda,” she said. “That fun fact is a testament to what’s made our city so great—places of worship, because that’s part of the diversity of our city.”