Li Zhang is running for Mountain View City Council.
Zhang is a 20-year resident and senior finance manager at Tesla. She graduated from the City of Mountain View’s first Chinese Civic Leadership Academy — which prepares individuals to serve on advisory bodies and committees — in June. Zhang said the program was integral in teaching her how the city runs and how democracy works in the U.S.
“I just didn’t know you could actually be involved as a regular citizen before,” Zhang said. “I thought it was a paid job, to be honest. And then I realized ‘Wow all these council positions are actually volunteer positions.’”
Although she doesn’t have experience serving on city council, Zhang said she believes her success in her career and skills are transferrable. She said that while she may not have detailed knowledge, being on city council isn’t an advisory position — it’s making informed judgments.
“I believe that I can make my best impact on synthesizing all ideas, make the most innovative and programmatic solutions and work collaboratively with all stakeholders with the collective intelligence,” Zhang said.
Zhang currently works at the electric vehicle company Tesla, and said she has “a track record of protecting the environment.”
“Before Tesla opened its factory in Shanghai in 2019, I helped to petition to Elon regarding to preserving the wildlife side close to the Shanghai factory,” Zhang said.
After graduating from the Chinese Civic Leadership Academy, Zhang said she interviewed for a position on the Environmental Planning Commission. But she quickly changed course to running for city council.
“I changed the course due to the urgency of needing to be involved in changing the future council direction on housing development,” Zhang said. “The former EPC chair thought this would be a better choice for what’s going on at this moment in the city council.”
Zhang is a strong proponent of building infrastructure to go with creating new housing. She suggested a deep dive into city service levels to ensure that the city can sustain the projected housing population growth.
The housing element currently includes the rezoning of shopping centers to allow for housing. Zhang is against this and said she believes the businesses in shopping centers should be prioritized, though she did not address any specific proposals.
“We do not need to do this right now,” Zhang said. “We should be incentivizing businesses in shopping centers to stay in business, not to redevelop and diminish retail.”
Zhang has a Ph.D. in computer simulation and said she wants the city to use 3D simulation to improve city planning.
“I would like the city to maintain its excellent financial position,” Zhang said. “It’s triple-A credit rating, diversified revenue streams, strong reserves and wise investments. I would like to identify additional funding sources to increase affordable housing units and partner with others to increase homeownership opportunities.”
Livability & Community Participation
One of Zhang’s biggest concerns is quality of life. She said that in order to maintain a high quality of life, the city must build infrastructure along with housing and population growth.
“I would like to provide ample park space in our neighborhoods, focusing on areas that are park deficient and create biodiversity throughout the city to support wildlife,” Zhang said.
Zhang said her background in finance gives her a unique perspective to bring to the table when it comes to economic development.
“The city has been fortunate enough to experience a financial boom in the last six, seven years,” Zhang said. “Even during the pandemic, the city had a surplus in large part due to the city’s longtime prudent financial practice.”
Zhang said she wants to shift some of the council’s focus from housing to economic development. She cited how 70% of downtown businesses are doing worse than they were pre-pandemic and there is a 15% vacancy rate of business spaces, according to a Sept. 9 economic development report, and stressed the importance of helping small businesses. To understand the challenges that business owners face, Zhang suggested increasing outreach.
“Housing is important and we’ve been focused heavily on that, but as a result, some other important components of the city, like economic development have been neglected,” Zhang said. “We cannot afford to sit on our financial laurels.”
To learn more about Zhang, visit her website here.