by Laura Lewis
The bark of attack dogs greeted us as we arrived at the home of Margaret Abe-Koga. We rang the doorbell timidly and as the door open we found ourselves ambushed by 5 pounds of lean, mean Chihuahua named Coco. Her sidekick Hana, a black lab mix, followed behind. Luckily Margaret swooped in and rushed Carter and myself to the safety of her dining room.
While Carter rambled on about Republicans and their affinity for dogs (Margaret is a Democrat by the way), I had a chance to chat with Margaret’s two daughters. Both students at Stevenson PACT, the articulate girls seemed to fit the part of former first daughters of Mountain View. They enthusiastically told me about all the crafts they had made sitting on the mantle right next to “a trophy (their) mom had won.” They also told me about their extensive movie collection which filled the bookshelves in the living room and included Star Wars, their Mom’s favorite movie. Finally, Carter, finished his lecture and our interview began.
Margaret began life at Stanford Hospital, the only child of Japanese immigrants. After attending local public schools, she attended Harvard. Her interest in politics was sparked while working on behalf of Govenor Feinstein and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. She entered politics after winning a seat on the Board of Education in 2002. In 2006 Margaret ran and won a seat on the Mountain View City Council and was elected Mayor by her peers in 2009.
The city has achieved a structurally, balanced budget and a AAA credit rating,” Margaret believes.
“How can you do that with so many employees receiving $100K + salaries?” Carter inquired.
“The picture painted in the paper about City salaries is deceptive,” asserted Margaret “Many of the packages were benchmarked in 2001 when it was hard to attract talent to the public sector. Our City Manager has been with the City for 20 years compared to the Manager of San Jose who is fairly new. Our police and fire salaries reflect overtime, which we determined was less expensive to pay than hiring additional personnel. Finally, Mountain View employees pay one of the highest pension cost-shares of any surrounding city.”
“But costs have increased dramatically over the last decade while the population has remained constant. How can this be sustained?” Carter countered.
“We have added a lot more services in the last decade, especially for teens and seniors which we felt were being inadequately supported in the community. We also had a large number of capital expenditure projects including the Stevens Creek Trail and several new parks. But we’re in a down cycle now. We’ve already cut staff back 10%.”
Maintain and Expand Top Quality Human Services
Since the start of her first term the city has added several new programs designed for seniors and especially young teens like longer hours at community gyms and special sports tournaments. Margaret would like to see these continue and perhaps even include a new teen center at Rengstorff Park. “There’s a real need for programs that can keep kids, especially young teens, engaged in positive activities,” believes Margaret, citing her experience on the San Mateo Youth Advisory Committee. “We also need to make sure our Seniors needs are met like improving bus routes and providing other transportation alternatives.”
Balanced, Sustainable and Equitable Growth
After citing The Stevens Creek Trail as her favorite place in the city it was no surprise that Margaret believes that we need to maintain and expand our park system. “Not turning 445 Calderon into a park was a mistake,” she offered noting she had voted in favor of acquiring the parcel at Calderon and Velarde, “but even if we can’t get land for large parks there still is tremendous value in small parks and tot lots.”
She says she’d like to see a new small park close to the Minton’s development site, a project which she voted in favor of. She believes that the developer still has some responsibility to accommodate the additional children likely to come into the neighborhood.
When asked about her views on the large number of building variances granted by the city Margaret responded that this was one of the signs that made her realize that the General Plan needed to be updated. She does believe that the City should allow some flexibility in varying densities, especially in the change areas identified in the Plan that make up about 28% of the city.
As Carter and I began wrapping up our interview we noticed Margaret’s oldest daughter sitting patiently on the couch in full karate gear. “She has her yellow-belt test today,” Margaret offered. “My husband and I actually met doing Kendo, I’m a 3rd degree black belt and he’s a 4th degree black belt–but I’m much more competitive.” I made myself a mental note to recruit the couple for the Neighborhood Watch. Coco escorted Carter and I out the door, luckily we made it out with all toes intact. I guess even Democratic dogs understand political correctness.
Laura Lewis is the Chair of OMVNA, but the views expressed here are Laura’s own, and do not reflect the views of the neighborhood association.