Indian American Raj Chahal was re-elected to the city of Santa Clara’s District 2 Council seat in the recent midterm elections. “I feel so blessed,” he told indica on Thursday, soon after he was declared the winner. “I never thought I would be a council member. But with the baby steps I took since I landed in Santa Clara in 1995, the community recognizes the work I did for so many years.”
Chahal won 61.69% votes of the votes, defeating Larry McColloch, who earned 38.31%.
Chahal told indica that he came to Santa Clara with just $500 leaving a well-established bank manager’s job in India. People thought he is doing a mistake and said, “I came to the US for a better quality of life and that is what I want to give to my district residents, a quality life.”
Chahal said running a city is different compared to being an Assembly or being a congressional representative.
“In the city, we directly impact the quality of life of our residents. An Assemblymember has a bigger area… they do not work on public safety or a road stop sign and traffic, but we have to take care of basic needs of the residents,” Chahal said.
Chahal first served in the Santa Clara Planning Commission for five years from 2013 to 2018 and ran for the council seat in 2018. Chahal has also served on the City of Santa Clara International Exchange Commission and the City of Santa Clara Charter Review Committee. He is a founding member and scoutmaster of Boy Scouts of America Troop 600 (the first Sikh Boy Scouts troop in the United States).
He said, “I have worked with the community for over a decade. My opponent has not held any community position, he was basically a parachute candidate.”
One of the Council’s primary challenges will be to balance the budget, he said. “Affordable housing is another big issue.”
Chahal feels that the next generation will find it difficult to afford a house. “At present, the Council’s contribution is 15% of the affordable housing projects money. “My goal is to increase it to 20-25 percent and have more affordable housing,” he said.
Chahal said his other main challenge will be to engage with the community better so that problems that require a quick resolution can be dealt with early. He said the crime rate in Santa Clara is not as high as other cities in the state, but “public safety is always paramount.”
The Council will have to overcome the budgetary deficit of $27 million, a side effect of the Covid lockdowns. “We need to work this out without impacting the quality of life of the residents.”
Santa Clara had a long-standing feud with the National Football League. Even though the city made $400 million in eight years from NFL events, it could not earn any money from non-NFL events such as concerts. “Now that the feud with the 49ers has been resolved, “the city stands to earn between $8 million and $20 million from non-NFL events.
“In this year’s budget, we have booked seven concerts, and each concert will bring us millions of dollars in net profit. We advocated for this,” Chahal said.
In collaboration with the city of Cupertino, Chahal managed to get a $8.465 million California State grant to start an emission-free shuttle service for seniors and residents. “This service is expected to start in 2023,” he said. He was also instrumental in procuring a $1.745 million grant for small businesses during Covid-19.
A big challenge that Santa Clara faces is the future of its beloved California’s Great America Amusement Park that was sold recently to new owners. The land on which California’s Great America stands was sold in June 2022 to Prologis, a San Francisco based real estate company, and chances are they may shut it down as early as six years from now or up to 11 years according to local media reports.
“To sustain the amusement park is one of our goals. There is no other entertainment park. We do not control transactions between two parties, but we control zoning and we can tell the new owners what the city would like to have. “Depending on the feedback from the community, we will recommend the best course of action,” Chahal said.