The Mercury News Weekend
Former mayor running for supervisor
Margaret Abe-Koga serves on several regional, county boards and has spent 16 years on the City Council
Margaret AbeKoga, former mayor and longtime City Councilmember, is running to replace Santa Clara County Board Supervisor Joe Simitian as both politicians shift into new gears a year before they term out of their current positions.
Abe-Koga announced the start of her campaign during a Lunar New Year celebration hosted by Assemblyman Evan Low over the weekend to a crowd of about 600 people, promising to take her governing experience to the county board. She's the first candidate in what's set to be a contested race for the supervisorial seat, which likely will see other north county leaders entering the race.
Abe-Koga has served on the Mountain View City Council since 2007 as well as a slew of other county and regional boards and committees. She believes her wide-ranging experience in local government representing Mountain View makes her the best candidate to replace Simitian on the county's governing body.
“I think the county is a good segue from the work I've been able to do in Mountain View,” Abe-Koga said. “I'm terming out of my council seat next year and he's terming out of his, so while I've definitely enjoyed my 16 years on the council and I'm proud of the work, I really love the work and making a difference, so that's what I want to keep doing on the board.”
A daughter of Japanese immigrant parents who settled in Mountain View, Abe-Koga has deep ties to the community. She was born at Stanford Hospital and grew up in the city she now represents. Her first foray into politics came when she first served as a congressional aide to U.S. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo from 1993 to 1999 after graduating from Harvard University.
Prior to her election to the City Council, Margaret served
on the City's Human Relations Commission from 2000 to 2004, and the Environmental Planning Commission from 2004 to 2006 while also serving as a trustee for Area 1 of the Santa Clara County Board of Education from 2002 to 2004. She has received endorsements from Simitian in the past.
In 2006, she was elected to the Mountain View City Council, and two years later she served as vice mayor before being chosen mayor in 2009, making her the first Asian American female to serve as such in Mountain View's 108-year history. She served as mayor again in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Abe-Koga also has served in numerous capacities in the private and nonprofit sectors, including as manager of government affairs for Synopsys Corp. and as manager of foundation and corporate relations for Asian Americans for Community Involvement.
With over a year until the elections, Abe-Koga said there's “no downside to starting early.”
“It's a tremendous effort, admittedly much bigger than a city council race, and I'm going all in and I want to win,” she said.
Abe-Koga is campaigning on what some consider Mountain View's solid record in combatting homelessness and building housing amid the ongoing Bay Area affordability crisis. She said the city has done a lot to address those issues, including setting up safe parking for RV dwellers and becoming an example to other Peninsula cities with the number of projects approved for construction in recent years, as well as its longterm neighborhood planning ideas, which have been imitated by other cities.
On the council, Abe-Koga has pushed back against the state's efforts to influence city planning and has prioritized quality of life, open space and parks, and the potential unintended consequences of development when considering housing projects in Mountain View. Although she believes the city has done a lot already, she said there are “real challenges that we're dealing with now.”
“We are expecting student growth in our schools, which has been eye-opening for me because other places are looking at declines in schools,” Abe-Koga said. “But our high school is projecting an increase in students in the near future.
“It's also coming up with funding mechanisms to acquire more land to build more parks and open space, and how we deal with parking if we get rid of it in downtowns. Those 20 or 30-minute headways on transit are not enough.
“What are we going to do in the meantime until we get to where we want to be? Those are real issues, so we just need folks to hear that as well.”
The former Mountain View mayor said she has seen how partnerships with the county have helped the city tackle issues like homelessness, mental health, housing and climate change planning. She said Santa Clara County has been “one of the best counties” to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and is doing a lot to deal with affordability issues.
“I hope to be able to strengthen that and it does take a collaborative effort to tackle these big issues and having that city perspective can be helpful,” she said. “I appreciate the current president of the board's focus on youth and families, that speaks to me as a mom. I think I can really bring the experiences and best practices to the county and especially on how to work with cities and work together to build more affordable units and provide needed homeless services.”