By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
Michelle Nguyen’s recent District 3 campaign has shaken up a race previously monopolized by Democrats. The 26-year-old Republican woman is running partially because of the importance of elected officials reflecting the communities they serve. She is young, Asian, a first-generation American whose parents are refugees from Vietnam and a member of the military— important but underrepresented groups on the current City Council.
Nguyen has positioned herself as the true outsider in the race as she has never worked for a politician (Toni Duran), on policy (Adrian Kwiatkowski), at City Hall (Chris Olsen) or even been elected to a community planning group (Stephen Whitburn). She is also the only non-Democrat in the race and the only person not part of the LGBT+ community (although she does consider herself an ally). She is a homeowner in Mission Hills and also a Girl Scout troop leader.
Nguyen’s work as officer in the National Guard kept her from entering the race earlier, which means she missed several forums, debates and questionnaires covered by Uptown News. To make up for this and introduce her to District 3 voters, many of the questions in the following conversation were topics included in previous coverage of the race already addressed by her opponents. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
What is your experience preparing you for this position?
I graduated from USD with a degree in international business in minor supply chain management and I’m also in the California Army of the National Guard. So, I’ve been in for seven years now and my specialty is in logistics. So, as you can tell that from my background, I am business oriented. With my background in supply chain management and logistics, we’re all about efficiency, looking at systems to find, pinpoint, and chokehold that hold-up process. In my military life, I am solving problems like that every single day. Right now, I work as a procurement specialist in a company that is a government contractor. I definitely understand what it means to safeguard taxpayer dollars and what is needed and engage my stakeholders and get everything that’s needed. With my background in that type of system and the military, I can say that I am a very different approach to City Council District 3. I’ve never worked for a politician before. I’ve never worked in policy or government legislature, but I definitely understand what it means to get it done.
What would your priorities be if elected?
I say 100% is the homeless crisis right now. SANDAG puts out an annual survey on
justice-involved homeless for that year. In the past year, they found very interesting facts, one being that the median age is 26 years old. Seventy-seven percent of last year’s homeless arrestees will become homeless while living in San Diego. About a third of males will cite that job loss was their cause of homelessness and over 50% of women will say it’s through abuse and violence that caused homelessness. So, today I’m 26 years old, I’m a woman. I unfortunately have experienced violence and sexual harassment in very different cases at unrelated times. I feel that I represent a very vulnerable demographic on the city council, so it’s very important to me and I think to a lot of people, that representation on the city council — and that a voice like mine — is represented and has a seat at the table.
[Editor’s note: In the survey, the median age of 26 years old was the first time someone became homeless, not the median age of homeless individuals in 2018. In addition, the survey found 19% of women list abuse or violence as their cause of homelessness, not over half.]
District 3 has the longest-running streak of LGBT representatives and the LGBT population is critical to being elected. What are you doing to win the votes of the LGBT community?
I grew up in an era that is so fortunate to see LGBTQ rights be heard. When I was in school and in college and now in the workplace, we got to see amazing strides happen right in front of us. So, to me, I feel like I am an ally. I would say that I’m spoiled in the way that I didn’t really get to see the discrimination of the LGBTQ community. I attribute all the activities of LGBTQ rights to activists of the past and currently right now.
How would you address climate change?
I work in a sector that [has] very high technology so I really understand the energy sector. A recent report says that San Diego is ahead of schedule on our greenhouse emissions action plans. I think we’re supposed to be at 15%, now we’re at 24%. If you look at that data, a lot of it has to do with how we view energy. Coming from a background that understands alternative energy, I want to put that up because we have to look at the big hitters in what is causing, proportionally, a lot of climate change. We have to look at how the city can maximize its resources with minimal output. Right now, I believe that renewable energy is the biggest hitter. It’s going to decrease our greenhouse gas pollution. It’s very important that we put that type of effort [forth] at such a great scale.
On a personal note, I feel that there are a lot of people who spearhead the personal, individual impact. I love that San Diego is so green-friendly. I myself, like to try to be conscious in everything I do, from what I can order [at a] coffee shop, down to my spending habits, down to what I want to do in my home. I love to see how you can show again, there’s a representation, our type of lifestyle and promoting that type of awareness.
A lot of greenhouse gas emissions do come from transportation. There is the emphasis on moving to active transportation as well as meeting Vision Zero goals of having no traffic deaths. What is your stance on transit and bike lanes?
If San Diego wants to be a major city, we need to have convenient and quick transit, so something that can go to the airport, can go to Balboa Park, can go to all the major universities, is something that is very desirable and it’s good for small businesses. It’s good for our climate action plan. It’s good for residents. I’d love to see on the transit side if we can get that type of transit out to important places. However, I see that car-centric society, for example, a lot of people don’t work close to where they live. It’s out of the picture if they were to take bike lanes. The city needs to look at rather than mandating a type of initiative to bike, it should definitely be incentive-based. I’m a really big proponent of behavioral economics, meaning that we look toward emotions in psychology to see how we act as individuals and how eventually our society would work. When we see that transit outweighs the opportunity cost of driving a car, then you definitely see more people doing that. Once we can get a transit that is more convenient, cheaper, and faster, then we can see more people exercising their alternative transportation load.
Wouldn’t that be an argument to add bike lanes because that’s going to make it more difficult to drive?
I’d say that the 30th Street [protected bike lane initiative] was really rolled out badly. It didn’t get a lot of the opinions of stakeholders. It’s going to take away hundreds of parking spots. A lot of the people and residents who live on 30th Street are like, “Why can’t we just put it on Utah Street?” You can do it in areas where it won’t take on such an impact on traffic. For example, 30th Street is going to take two years of construction. I can’t imagine the traffic that it’s going to cause. When cars are in stop-and-go traffic and idling, they’re actually emitting more greenhouse gases than if they were to go at fuel-efficient speeds. You have to look at the science, the physics of your car and see what are we trying to achieve here? If we really love cycling, I think we need to open up the idea of traffic circles as well. It eliminates cars from going and stopping a lot.
There are ways of not dramatically changing the way that San Diegans live their lives but we can think about smart ways to cut down greenhouse emissions. Unfortunately, the bike lanes really exclude the physically disabled, those who can’t contribute to that type of vision. They are a population that needs to have their voice heard and with the physically disabled, there’s also parents with strollers that need to have that type of parking. I definitely want to find a happy medium and it definitely can be done not just by mandating bike lanes.
What is your stance on regulations on electric scooters?
I feel really sad to see businesses, like these scooters, leave San Diego, because of course we’re trying to solve the last-mile option. If they’re trying to be a transit-forward city and disincentivize companies to provide such scooters, that’s very sad. With any type of use of transportation, safety is the biggest concern. I’d love to see a way to get more people to wear helmets, to get people to use them responsibly. A lot of people are talking about having a type of licensing, permitting or taking a safety test to ensure that safety awareness is at the forefront of usage of electric scooters. I definitely would like to see them come back so that they can solve the last-mile option and I definitely want to see fewer people get injured.
What is your stance on the smart cameras installed at stoplights that the city attorney says have helped solve crimes, while some of your opponents have pledged to oppose because of privacy concerns?
I think, like a lot of San Diegans here, privacy means a lot to us — more freedom to do what we’d like and not have that type of data recorded and kept somewhere. Personally, I’d like to see more advocates for privacy rights. I definitely would love to see where this information goes. Of course, when you see data collected on you and you don’t get to see exactly where that goes, it’s very scary.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.