This article originally appeared in The Almanac
By Kate Bradshaw
Virginia Chang Kiraly, who currently serves on two publicly elected boards on the Midpeninsula, has announced her plans to run for San Mateo County’s District 3 supervisor seat.
The other candidates running for the seat, up for election in 2022, which Supervisor Don Horsley is leaving due to term limits, are City Council member Ray Mueller of Menlo Park, Laura Parmer-Lohan, the mayor of San Carlos, and Steven Booker of Half Moon Bay. The district covers much of the San Mateo County coastside, a number of unincorporated areas, and jurisdictions including Atherton, southeast Belmont, Half Moon Bay, the section of Menlo Park west of El Camino Real, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside.
Chang Kiraly currently serves as an elected board member for both the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and the San Mateo County Harbor District, of which she is currently president. She lives in unincorporated West Menlo Park.
In an interview with The Almanac, she said she is running on a platform focused on public safety and fiscal responsibility.
Chang Kiraly says she has a professional background in financial planning and points to her achievements on boards governing both fire and water safety and operations in multiple jurisdictions throughout the county as evidence of her strong candidacy for the position.
“As California opens up for recovery, we in San Mateo County must work together to find commonsense solutions, and common ground, from the lessons we have learned from the pandemic and the wildfires that have hit close to home in our county,” she said in a press release announcing her campaign.
When it comes to the harbor district, one area she’s been involved in and hopes to push further via policymaking as a supervisor is in the realm of water rescue.
Currently, the harbor district has a harbor patrol team, but there are no other Coast Guard resources between the Golden Gate area and Monterey County. “Our entire coastline is exposed to no water rescue safety, except out of Pillar Point Harbor,” she said. “Ideally, I’d like to have a full-time water rescue staff.”
A great first step would be to implement a communication system that alerts public safety agencies simultaneously when incidents occur, she said.
“There needs to be a more concerted communication effort so that all of these agencies get the same call at the same time,” she said.
Another way to improve public safety is to focus on digital connectivity, she said.
“I’ve been a fiscal watchdog for pretty much my entire public service life,” Chang Kiraly said.
One area she said she’d apply her fiscal watchdog perspective is to how Measure K money is spent in San Mateo County.
Measure K is a countywide half-cent sales tax aimed at meeting critical community needs. She said she’d favor using the funds to support public safety initiatives, and expressed disapproval toward the current practice of providing $1.4 million of those funds for each supervisor’s district to “fill unanticipated needs and service gaps.”
“It’s public money,” she said. ‘I think sometimes that is abused.”
Chang Kiraly is also on the board of NAMI San Mateo County, the local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an organization that started in San Mateo County.
“How do we help those so they’re not at risk to themselves and to the public?” she asked. “Sometimes people forget that public safety is a big piece of public health.”
Chang Kiraly said she also brings to the table “courageous leadership” when, as board president, she helped to lead a reorganization of the harbor district’s board.
In the last quarter and into 2020, the board selected a new general manager, new general counsel and finalized its strategic plan, she said.
“I think it’s turned around,” she said.
Chang Kiraly added that, if elected, she would be the first Asian American supervisor, and feels she is the most qualified candidate.
She’s dealt with labor negotiations and said she understands the “tug and pull” between public employees and tax dollars.
During her tenure on the fire district board, the district has managed to rebuild two fire stations and is working on a third. The district has also created an ad hoc search committee to find a new fire chief after hiring an interim chief. She added that she’s been involved in working with the North Fair Oaks community on emergency preparedness matters.
She’s also well-acquainted with board dynamics and negotiating contracts. “I have no problems with conflict,” she said. “Not every party gets 100% of what it wants.”
At the same time, she added, “To get all of these things done, you have to work together and be collaborative. That’s what I’ve done over the last 10 years on the fire board and six years on the harbor board, (and) it’s what I’ll continue to do.”