Tara Sreekrishnan, 25

Tara Sreekrishnan, 25, is running to be a voice for the people on the Cupertino City Council. Learn more about how she will tackle traffic congestion, climate change, and Cupertino’s housing crisis, and how these issues intertwine.  

If you could get a beer with any politician right now, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I'm sure you get that answer from just about everyone. She presented her own vision of inclusivity in her district and didn't just pander to what she thought people wanted to hear.

How do you stay informed? Not with national news, but with local Cupertino issues?

I go to council meetings. (I know a lot of candidates running for office don't actually go to the meetings.) But I watch council meetings and as many neighborhood meetings as I can attend.

Tell me one interesting fact about yourself.

I used to teach piano in Cupertino for five years.

What do you think has been your greatest achievement?

All the progress we've made on this campaign so far. We're definitely the underdogs but we have proven that we have a path to victory to November. This campaign is the culmination of all my advocacy, campaign and policy experience coming together.

You mentioned a lot of people who are running for office don't actually go to the council meetings, but you do. As someone who is actively engaged in local government, tell me in your own words, what does the Cupertino City Council do?

They do the strategic land use and financial planning for Cupertino. We also serve as the community's voice in these issues. It’s not just the administration deciding everything, we're here to represent residents.

Speaking to those issues, what are your potholes? What are the issues in your community that you feel are being neglected, but we really need to start addressing?

Our historic regional housing crisis, intense traffic congestion, and climate change/environmental degradation. These three issues work in conjunction; we need to address them on the city level and also work with our neighbors to address them on the regional level.

Silicon Valley has been growing rapidly and unequally, and I think that we're feeling that now with these regional issues. We see skyrocketing prices, congested streets, congested highways, workers commuting from farther and farther away, and more carbon in the air.

Why did you choose local politics, over engaging in state or federal level politics?

This is where we can have the most impact on people's lives. For instance, someone who runs for Congress has to deal with the rest of the House and Senate if they want to pass any legislation. For this position, you just have to deal with four other people, and you can really change a community. You can have the most direct impact in a local office.

You’re campaigning on community sized zoning and ways for the community to reassert control over that over their own government. How does that affect housing prices? What does community sized zoning look like?

It's community-oriented decision making. Making city decisions in the public interest and ensuring that city planning meets the needs of a community.

You’ve highlighted the need for campaign finance reform at the city level. Normally people talk about campaign finance reform on the state or national level. How do these issues play out on a local level?

There are lobbyists in every election, and I think there are moneyed interests seeking influence in our city hall. Those interests shouldn’t have a disproportionate voice in Cupertino.

Are there any limits on what individuals can donate?

No, there are no contribution limits and there are no restrictions around lobbying. There’s also no disclosure process that a lobbyist has to go through.

What are the campaign finance reforms you'd want to put in?

I want to speak with the community to see what we could get behind. There are different revolving door restrictions we could put in or we could put a cap on how much you could give. There are a lot of options we can take. And instead of just presenting one, I'd want to speak with the council and speak with the community to see how we can be more transparent instead of just imposing one idea.

An option I’ve been thinking about is having candidates sign a fair campaign pledge rejecting and denouncing corporate PAC contributions or independent expenditures in city elections.

I read an op-ed by you about the importance of the library commission. Again, speaking to how little people might know about their local government.  What is a commission, how did you get involved?

It’s a volunteer appointed board. And their mission is to advise the council on certain matters. So each commission has its own specialty, and you go through an interview and selection process to get appointed, and usually, those who are appointed have some background or interest or knowledge on that issue.

I think they serve a really important purpose because, again, it's the residents’ voice in city matters. Our library is a centerpiece of Cupertino.

When did you hear the call? When was that moment you realized, I need to run?

I never thought I'd run for office, but I decided to run eight months into the Trump administration after I realized I had all the tools to run.

What doubts do you think people have about you as a candidate? And what do you say to people who are too young?

Even if I was 10 years older, I feel like I'd be taken a lot more seriously. As young candidates, we have to work three or four times harder. People doubt if you have enough experience. So it's good to remind people what your experiences are and why you're qualified. And usually, that works.

I've been told to wait my turn and not run by political insiders in Cupertino. But when you're just speaking to ordinary people at their door, just the fact that you came and spoke with them has a bigger impact than your age. If people see that you know what you're talking about and that you're passionate, I think that will outweigh any doubts they have about your age.

Who have been your mentors been throughout this whole process?

My mentors have been different community leaders and community organizers in Cupertino who have helped me throughout this process.

Campaigns often focus on just what's wrong with the community and what needs to be improved. Instead,  tell me something positive about your community, what do you love about Cupertino and what keeps you tied to the area?

We have an excellent public school system that I'm a product of, and we have amazing cultural diversity. We're home to the largest tech company in the world and a world-class community college.

How do you feel about having Apple in your city? They’re a controversial company, with an undeniable influence on your town and the world. How do they affect Cupertino particularly?

They have brought a lot of economic prosperity to our community and are a large tax base. But I think it's a balance. Our housing prices have also skyrocketed in direct relationship to them being here and traffic congestion has increased.

If we don't proactively find housing and transit solutions, Cupertino and the rest of Silicon Valley is going to become less habitable for companies like Apple, and we'll see long-term economic and social losses.

How do you think we should be getting more Asian Americans to run?

I think that we need to band together and realize that we have a unified voice and that we can really make a change with our voice on the issues we care about.

What advice would you give to other millennials who considering running?

I would say you don't have time to wait your turn. Your community needs you now. If you know you can do the job you should run right now.

 The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.

Lacy Wright