Emergency preparedness and fiscal accountability top of mind for Chang Kiraly
By: Sierra Lopez
A decade into serving San Mateo County’s coastside, Virginia Chang Kiraly says she’s ready to bring her fiscal watchdog mentality to the county level, aiming to represent District 3 on the county’s Board of Supervisors.
The path toward public service was a clear one, she said. Born in Austin, Texas, to immigrant parents who fled from Communist China to the United States, Chang Kiraly said her parents and their journey to the states have had a lasting impact on her life and gave her a unique perspective.
“This whole thing of serving the public and being involved in the public has kind of been ingrained in me for a long time. [Having immigrant parents] I think does give you a different perspective,” said Chang Kiraly, a member of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board since 2011 and the San Mateo County Harbor District Board since 2015.
Her father was a professor at the University of Texas where Chang Kiraly would eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in government with a minor in economics. Her mother worked for the state of Texas, heading food services in the Department of Mental Health. Ultimately, she was raised to understand the importance of community and giving back, she said.
Outside of her elected positions, Chang Kiraly spends her time volunteering with the fire district Community Emergency Response Team and as a disaster response volunteer with the American Red Cross.
She also currently serves on the board of the National Alliance for Mental Illness San Mateo County; as a trustee of the California State Parks Foundation; and is a founding member of the San Mateo County API Caucus, an advocacy group for Asian and Pacific Islander elected officials and policies that would benefit that community.
Between 2007 to 2014, she also served on the California Commission for Economic Development, having been appointed by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and during that time, chaired the commission’s Biotech Advisory Committee. She is also a former member of the Silicon Valley Red Cross Board of Directors.
“That’s what led me to serve in public office. … If you look at all of these things, giving back and helping people seems to be the natural course to be taken,” she said.
As a young girl in elementary school, Chang Kiraly remembers her parents escorting her door to door as she knocked to raise funds for the United Nations Children’s Fund as part of an annual fundraiser put on by her school.
She likens the memory to walking precincts today and those fundraising skills transferred over to her professional life where she spent 15 years building expertise in corporate financial analysis, planning and investment, Chang Kiraly said. After rising to become a senior director of the financial exchange company Nasdaq, a position she held for three years, Chang Kiraly pivoted into nonprofit work. In either field, she said her finance savvy was at the forefront.
“I think the younger me from an idealistic world view would not be surprised. You had a good career on Wall Street but now you’re doing what you love,” Chang Kiraly said.
Chang Kiraly is up against three others to represent District 3 — Steven Booker, political director and community affairs liaison for the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union; Ray Mueller, Menlo Park councilmember; and Laura Parmer-Lohan, San Carlos councilmember. Each will have or have had a profile of their own and in issue-specific stories still to come.
The district largely encompasses unincorporated coastal and wooded rural county land, leaving the board to provide direct governance to the thousands of residents spread across the area. As a resident of unincorporated Menlo Park with upward political aspirations, the natural progression for Chang Kiraly would be to set her eyes on the open seat being left by current board President Don Horsley.
Letting the record speak
If elected, Chang Kiraly said one of her top priorities will be to strengthen the county’s response to a number of public safety concerns like sea level rise along the coast and increased wildfire risks especially in the more rural, forested areas of District 3.
Part of the solution, she argued, is to do more to improve defensible space by ensuring responsible agencies follow through on proper land management. The “crux of public safety” is bolstering communication between agencies responding in emergencies as well, she said, and highlighted the need for better public education around ZoneHaven, the county’s public-facing emergency response system.
“If you look at what the county does, it’s really focused on public safety and public health and underlying all of that is being fiscally responsible, transparent and accountable,” Chang Kiraly said.
Reflecting on her time on both boards, Chang Kiraly said she’s the only candidate who could bring knowledge gained while responding to the CZU Lightning Complex of 2020 and tragic sneaker waves to the board.
She brought “a good dose of governance” to a troubled Harbor District in recent years as well, she said, calling it “the most successful turnaround story in the county today.” In recent years, she said the district has improved internal relations while paying down pension liabilities and installing life stations after a young boy was pulled out to sea during a King Tide.
Similar improvements have been seen at the fire protection district during her tenure including the adoption of a contract between the district and firefighters after years without one.
Menlo Park firefighters and former Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman have endorsed Chang Kiraly, joining an extensive list of groups, elected officials and community leaders sharing support for her campaign including former state Sen. Quentin Kopp, county Sheriff Carlos Bolanos and Nancy Reyering, president of the San Mateo County Harbor District Board of Commissioners.