George Yang, 42, and a 10-year resident of Menlo Park, has announced his candidacy for Menlo Park's City Council. He lives in the Belle Haven neighborhood and plans to run for the District 1 seat.
Yang works as a system architect at Garm8 Inc., a Santa Clara software company that works on garment manufacturing.
On an old Twitter account, which Yang said he no longer has access to, he identified as a Bay Area conservative, rifle owner and born-again Christian. Those labels are mostly still true, he said – minus the rifles part. He said he got rid of them after his second child was born.
For his campaign, however, he said he "would like to focus (on) solutions that transcend party and ideology."
He said that as an engineer, his mindset is to identify problems and solutions. "I think I want to advocate for those solutions," he said. "Those are things I think I can bring to the table in terms of this election."
Yang previously served as chair of the San Bruno bicycle and pedestrian committee, and is currently a member of the Menlo Park Sister City Committee.
In an interview with The Almanac, Yang said that one of the biggest problems in the Belle Haven neighborhood, where he is a homeowner, is traffic.
"At certain hours, it's very difficult to get in and get out," he said. "It's very difficult to get groceries … I can see other families suffering."
Six years ago, he said, his state Assembly race platform included trying to alleviate the region's transportation woes. He said he supports better connections between regional transit agencies; specifically, rail should be expanded northward along U.S. 101 past Moffett Field and across the Dumbarton corridor to create a "comprehensive South Bay loop." He suggested the VTA could be the transit agency to bridge the gap between other agencies' stations, because it is not "reaching (its) full potential" and could benefit from increased ridership. But he said he would want to convene other cities – Palo Alto, Mountain View and Fremont – to develop a clearer plan first.
He sent The Almanac a map laying out this proposed loop. Pictured in orange is the Caltrain line, in purple is the Altamont Corridor Express line, and in yellow is the existing VTA line.
The red line represents his concept for a northward expansion of VTA. He noted that in China, where he is originally from, one strategy to reduce costs is to permit private developers to build offices above the public transit right-of-way.
He emphasized the importance of getting rail service across the bay that connects to other rail lines and expressed concern that early plans to revitalize the Dumbarton rail corridor could be part of a stand-alone project, separate from other transit agencies.
Just connecting the East Bay to Menlo Park won't solve the traffic problem, he said. Plenty of people commute in from the East Bay and travel to other places on the Peninsula or in the South Bay, like Mountain View or Palo Alto.
He acknowledged, however, that such a proposal isn't really in the bailiwick of the City Council. One matter that is, though, is the city's midday shuttle. He said he's taken it and thinks it's underutilized and takes too long.
He suggested that the city work with the private sector to set up a ride-sharing program through town for seniors to run needed errands at off-peak hours. If users schedule their rides in advance, it could also be possible to improve efficiency.
'The elephant in the room'
In District 1, Yang said, Facebook is "the elephant in the room." He said he doesn't have any personal or business ties to the company and that he would be in an "open and neutral" position in negotiating with it.
One concern with Facebook, he said, is the company's proposed "Willow Village." The scale of the company's growth across Willow Road from the Belle Haven neighborhood, he said, will make Willow Road a moat, protecting the new development with an impassable river of traffic. The village, he said, could become a "shining castle on the other side of the river we can't get to."
He said Facebook should develop other mitigations, and suggested a landscaped pedestrian bridge over Willow Road for Belle Haven residents to bypass stoplights on the congested corridor.
Another problem across the city, he said, is a shortage of housing that teachers can afford. He's the parent of two kids – ages 7 and 11 – and believes education is important, he said.
He has talked with teachers at Mid-Peninsula High School who have to commute an hour or more each way to get to work. If more teachers lived closer to where they work, he said, they might have more time and energy to work with parents, tutor kids and participate in after-school programs.
He wants to encourage the construction of teacher housing by rezoning parts of residential areas in Menlo Park to allow up to four units on residential properties – but only if they are used to provide teacher housing.
He envisions rezoning that would allow up to two two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments on properties that now permit only one home, on properties with lot sizes ranging from 6,000 to 7,200 square feet.
As part of that initiative, he said, he'd encourage a competition among architects to come up with a set of pre-approved designs that, if approved, could expedite the city's permitting process.
"We want to have the design that's consistent with the suburban feeling of Menlo Park," he said.
As for his campaign strategy, Yang said he plans to focus more on knocking on doors than spending money "to bash someone or saturate something."
"I just want to be about solutions," he said.