Virginia Chang Kiraly has experience as an elected official, but she prides herself as the only candidate in the District 3 San Mateo County Board of Supervisors race with a financial background, frequently describing herself as a "fiscal watchdog."
She has served as a board member of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and the San Mateo County Harbor District since 2011 and 2015, respectively, and as former senior director at Nasdaq stock market, she credits her financial savvy for some of the accomplishments made by the two district agencies during her tenure.
"The fire district has paid down about $44 million of unfunded pension liabilities since I've been on this board ... The harbor district has paid down about 50% of its unfunded pension liability," Chang Kiraly said in an interview with The Almanac. "It's a philosophy for me, so I've pushed for that."
With good financial planning, Chang Kiraly said, the Fire District gained the opportunity to increase battalion staffing and to build its third fire station, while the Harbor District is in the process of fixing its coastal trail to Mavericks Beach and has placed life rings in county beaches that could save lives for those caught in strong waves.
It's all about financial planning based on certainty that allows you to prepare for the future, Chang Kiraly said, and it's an approach she hopes to bring to District 3.
Her time on the two boards largely informs one of her top campaign priorities: public safety.
When she moved to unincorporated West Menlo Park in 1994, part of the attraction to the area was the wide availability of open space, and she believes that everyone should feel compelled to take advantage of that resource safely.
But during the pandemic, Chang Kiraly, as the Harbor District's board president, confronted some of the holes in coastside safety. Within a seven-week period, between November 2020 and January 2021, seven people were fatally swept away by strong waves, including a 12-year-old boy at Cowell State Beach.
The harbor district in response helped install three emergency life ring buoy stations within Pillar Point Harbor to give visitors a more immediate and safer rescue option while waiting for emergency responders. The hope is to expand the program across other parts of the state's coastline. For Chang Kiraly, even more should be done.
"That's such a small Band-Aid," she said. "What we need is a real coastside water rescue effort."
Using her fiscal-minded approach, Chang Kiraly believes she can achieve that by taking a second look at how Measure K funds are being used in San Mateo County.
The half-cent sales tax voters passed in November 2016, also known as the "San Mateo Critical Services Measures," which helps fund a broad range of essential services such as paramedic dispatch, neighborhood health clinics and addressing sea level rise, among other things.
Chang Kiraly called it a regressive tax and didn't approve of the way it is currently being used by the county, with about $1.4 million going to each supervisor's district as discretionary funds.
Instead, Chang Kiraly said it should be invested towards a water rescue post, mental health crisis training for law enforcement, fire prevention and protection, and disaster preparedness.
"For me, Measure K was billed as funding for public safety," she said.
Chang Kiraly joins two other candidates, Ray Mueller and Steven Booker, who have spoken against a new parcel tax measure proposal that will go towards climate change initiatives.
Although she's not against taxes, Chang Kiraly said that it is the wrong time to impose another tax when inflation and gas prices are at an all-time high. Instead, she thinks the county should be looking at what resources are currently at hand, such as the special districts like the fire district, before asking county residents for more money.
"When you want to impose a parcel tax, you better work together with all the agencies that are already collecting taxes instead of having a redundant tax put out there," she said.
Previously, Chang Kiraly was appointed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the California Commission for Economic Development and served from 2007 to 2014. She currently serves as a trustee on the California State Parks Foundation and is on the board of WIRE for Women, a nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes women in elected office throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and the National Alliance for Mental Illness San Mateo County.
She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1986 with a bachelor's in government and a minor in economics. In 2020, she earned a master of public administration from the University of Southern California.
Chang Kiraly is endorsed by Nancy Reyering, president of the San Mateo County Harbor Board of Commissioners, Harold Schapelhouman, former fire chief of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District; Carlos Bolanos, San Mateo County Sheriff, among others. To see a full list of her endorsements, visit virginiachangkiraly.com.