Epoch Times sat down with Greg Tanaka, one of eleven candidates vying for four seats on the Palo Alto City Council, to discuss the upcoming election.
Mr. Tanaka emphasized cooperating with other cities in the region to solve the housing and transportation issues that the area faces.
Epoch Times: As a member of the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC), would you call yourself a slow-growth “residentialist” or a pro-growth housing advocate?
Mr. Tanaka: “Housing is easily one of the biggest issues right now. Our socioeconomic diversity is disappearing because of the high cost of housing. I started a tech company in Palo Alto, and the biggest issue my employees complain about is the cost of housing. But this is a regional issue, not just a Palo Alto one, and to really solve the problem it needs to be addressed regionally.
“It’s tied to transportation issues as well. Housing, traffic, and parking are the three biggest issues in the Peninsula. I have a lot of experience addressing these issues, and I’m unique in that I try to get alliance in the community, to bring people together and create win-wins.”
Epoch Times: Earlier this year, one of your colleagues on the Planning Commission, attorney Kate Downing, resigned and moved to Santa Cruz. In her resignation letter she stated affordability was the main reason. If people who earn a 6-digit salary can’t afford to live in Palo Alto, how will our civil servants be able to? If elected, what would you do to help this very real problem?
Mr. Tanaka: “Affordability is a big challenge right now. The sad thing is that Palo Alto used to be the epicenter of innovation; Facebook and Google started here. I started my company here, but sometimes wonder if I should have, because it’s so hard to get talent because of this issue.
“There are a couple of ways to address this. Since it’s a regional issue, working with other cities is very important. I also think we need to look at creating smaller units. The average size of an American home has grown bigger and bigger, while other things are getting smaller and smaller. If we bought cars like we do houses, we’d all be driving RVs.
“Bigger is not necessarily better. If we create smaller units downtown, like they do in other cities, it could do a lot to help with affordability.”
Epoch Times: You were recently appointed to the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission. How do you plan to make the city more commuter-friendly in terms of parking, transportation, and infrastructure?
Mr. Tanaka: “Housing, parking, and traffic are regional issues and need to be solved regionally. The first thing we need is better transit, but in order for transit to work there has to be a big solution. We need to get agencies from different cities working together, get synchronization across agencies and regions; that’s how you make solutions. If public transit is less convenient than driving, people are not going to take it.”
Epoch Times: What is your overall vision for Palo Alto?
Mr. Tanaka: “If you look at the City Council and the citizens of Palo Alto, you see a big disconnect. The lack of representation of two-income and Asian families is ridiculous. I want to see all of Palo Alto represented—Asian families, two-income families, etc. The needs of so many citizens are not being represented, and I want to change this.
“We also need to do better with the fiscal budget. Even though we are in a booming economy, the city is barely able to balance its budget. If you can’t balance under these booming conditions, when can you? I have a lot of experience in retail and know that the way we regulate business makes it very hard to operate here. We can do so much better.”
Epoch Times: In a recent interview, you proposed that “Palo Alto should hold a
housing summit to explore the success or failure from other communities with micro-units and community housing complexes.” Could you please explain what you mean by housing summit?
Mr. Tanaka: “How we deal with the housing challenge will decide the future of Palo Alto. The people of Palo Alto agree on many things, but not this one issue. The housing summit would bring these people together and get them engaged in dialogue so agreements can be reached and we can move forward together.
“The job of an elected official is to bring people together to have real conversations about what’s going on, to make people feel heard and find solutions where everyone wins.”
Epoch Times: Some of your constituents are practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has been brutally suppressed in mainland China. As Palo Alto becomes more of an international city, do you believe municipal legislators should weigh in on international human rights issues?
Mr. Tanaka: “I think it’s all of our job. It’s easy to walk by and pretend something bad is not happening, but no matter who you are—citizen, part of city council, or U.S. senator—ignoring brutality is wrong. I don’t understand why China is still against Falun Gong; I’m baffled by it. It is all of our responsibility, not just people who have direct power. We need to stand for what is right.”