News

Meet Menlo Park's new City Council candidate: Chelsea Nguyen, a former refugee, military police trainee and theology student

Nguyen to run for open District 3 seat against Jennifer Wolosin and Max Fennell

Longtime Menlo Park resident Chelsea Nguyen is running for Menlo Park City Council's District 3. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Longtime Menlo Park resident Chelsea Nguyen has lived a life full of what sounds like contradictions.

She came to America from as a child refugee, then served in the military in the Middle East and attended military police training. She has been Buddhist and Christian, and got her graduate degree in theology from Oxford University.

She's experienced the gamut of circumstances that brought her from a refugee camp in Vietnam to being a homeowner and parent of three in Menlo Park, a city she's lived in for 40 years, she said.

And on July 20, she pulled papers to run for the Menlo Park City Council's District 3 seat.

If elected, she said, her top policy priorities would be in the areas of housing affordability, police reform and transportation.

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When Nguyen first came to the U.S., with her parents and two siblings, the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (now Menlo Church) sponsored her family. They lived in a small apartment in East Palo Alto and she attended Willow Oaks School.

"As an immigrant I have a different perspective than other people who are born and raised here," she said. "I know what it's like not to have anything. I know what it's like to lose everything and start new ... I know how hard it is to survive when you have very little," she said. "As a community we ought to know better."

Now, her three adult children – a daughter and two sons who have served or are serving in the military – tell her that there's no way they'd be able to live in the community if their family didn't own their home.

She said she favors rent control and would like Menlo Park to have a more robust below market rate housing rental program.

Santa Monica has had rent control for many years. "It's an affluent neighborhood like ours and they are able to have rent control. I don't see how we can't have that," she said.

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"If you work at Starbucks and make $15 an hour, like my daughter, you will never make enough to have a place to live," she said.

Her daughter, she said, is lucky, because she can live at home and walk to work. She, unlike her coworkers, doesn't get parking tickets for not moving her car frequently enough while on the job.

"What about the young people who just start out who don't live here (and) work here?" she asked. "I just think we ought to ... be better. We have to find a way to be better."

Nguyen said she also is interested in police reform policies.

While in the military, she said, she had several jobs, one of which was with the military police.

At the military police academy, she said, she was taught that every suspect she would interact with is a trained killer. Yet despite working to enforce laws among people with far more combat training than the average civilian, she was always instructed to shoot to maim, never to kill.

That training contrasts deeply with the police shootings that have been happening around the U.S., she said.

Nguyen said she'd be interested in focusing police reform on recruitment and hiring practices rather than training. She said she would also want to understand more about how policing is taking place, and whether, especially in Belle Haven, where many minority residents live, police officers are patrolling with a mindset of catching criminals or focusing on community safety more broadly.

She said she favors a compassionate approach to law enforcement, and described a scene from Victor Hugo's novel "Les Miserables" in which a young man who stole some food went to jail. When he was released, he stole some silverware from a church, and when caught, the priest let him keep the silverware and forgave him. She said she took a lesson from that story: "For me, if you give compassion, you never know what kind of wonderful positive outcome could come back to you."

Another policy priority would be transportation. She said she was recently in Phoenix helping with a campaign for a Democratic candidate and was impressed with the public transit there. She said she'd love to see a similar public transit option that allows for faster travel along El Camino Real in particular. "I think it's a pipe dream," she said, but is interested in other ideas to improve transportation in the Bay Area.

While a run for City Council would be her first campaign for public office, she's volunteered for a number of candidates, doing phone banking and registering voters. She also helps register new naturalized U.S. citizens to vote, has served on Palo Alto's Community Development Block Grant board and is the vice president of the San Mateo County Blue Star Moms chapter, which organizes care packages for troops and supports veterans, including those who are homeless, in Menlo Park.

"I want to have a voice to speak for the ones who can't, who won't, or who are not able to speak for themselves," she said.

Nguyen joins a race for the District 3 seat that so far has two other contenders: Jennifer Wolosin, founder of Parents for Safe Routes, and Max Fennell, a pro Black triathlete and entrepreneur.

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Meet Menlo Park's new City Council candidate: Chelsea Nguyen, a former refugee, military police trainee and theology student

Nguyen to run for open District 3 seat against Jennifer Wolosin and Max Fennell

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 22, 2020, 11:47 am

Longtime Menlo Park resident Chelsea Nguyen has lived a life full of what sounds like contradictions.

She came to America from as a child refugee, then served in the military in the Middle East and attended military police training. She has been Buddhist and Christian, and got her graduate degree in theology from Oxford University.

She's experienced the gamut of circumstances that brought her from a refugee camp in Vietnam to being a homeowner and parent of three in Menlo Park, a city she's lived in for 40 years, she said.

And on July 20, she pulled papers to run for the Menlo Park City Council's District 3 seat.

If elected, she said, her top policy priorities would be in the areas of housing affordability, police reform and transportation.

When Nguyen first came to the U.S., with her parents and two siblings, the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (now Menlo Church) sponsored her family. They lived in a small apartment in East Palo Alto and she attended Willow Oaks School.

"As an immigrant I have a different perspective than other people who are born and raised here," she said. "I know what it's like not to have anything. I know what it's like to lose everything and start new ... I know how hard it is to survive when you have very little," she said. "As a community we ought to know better."

Now, her three adult children – a daughter and two sons who have served or are serving in the military – tell her that there's no way they'd be able to live in the community if their family didn't own their home.

She said she favors rent control and would like Menlo Park to have a more robust below market rate housing rental program.

Santa Monica has had rent control for many years. "It's an affluent neighborhood like ours and they are able to have rent control. I don't see how we can't have that," she said.

"If you work at Starbucks and make $15 an hour, like my daughter, you will never make enough to have a place to live," she said.

Her daughter, she said, is lucky, because she can live at home and walk to work. She, unlike her coworkers, doesn't get parking tickets for not moving her car frequently enough while on the job.

"What about the young people who just start out who don't live here (and) work here?" she asked. "I just think we ought to ... be better. We have to find a way to be better."

Nguyen said she also is interested in police reform policies.

While in the military, she said, she had several jobs, one of which was with the military police.

At the military police academy, she said, she was taught that every suspect she would interact with is a trained killer. Yet despite working to enforce laws among people with far more combat training than the average civilian, she was always instructed to shoot to maim, never to kill.

That training contrasts deeply with the police shootings that have been happening around the U.S., she said.

Nguyen said she'd be interested in focusing police reform on recruitment and hiring practices rather than training. She said she would also want to understand more about how policing is taking place, and whether, especially in Belle Haven, where many minority residents live, police officers are patrolling with a mindset of catching criminals or focusing on community safety more broadly.

She said she favors a compassionate approach to law enforcement, and described a scene from Victor Hugo's novel "Les Miserables" in which a young man who stole some food went to jail. When he was released, he stole some silverware from a church, and when caught, the priest let him keep the silverware and forgave him. She said she took a lesson from that story: "For me, if you give compassion, you never know what kind of wonderful positive outcome could come back to you."

Another policy priority would be transportation. She said she was recently in Phoenix helping with a campaign for a Democratic candidate and was impressed with the public transit there. She said she'd love to see a similar public transit option that allows for faster travel along El Camino Real in particular. "I think it's a pipe dream," she said, but is interested in other ideas to improve transportation in the Bay Area.

While a run for City Council would be her first campaign for public office, she's volunteered for a number of candidates, doing phone banking and registering voters. She also helps register new naturalized U.S. citizens to vote, has served on Palo Alto's Community Development Block Grant board and is the vice president of the San Mateo County Blue Star Moms chapter, which organizes care packages for troops and supports veterans, including those who are homeless, in Menlo Park.

"I want to have a voice to speak for the ones who can't, who won't, or who are not able to speak for themselves," she said.

Nguyen joins a race for the District 3 seat that so far has two other contenders: Jennifer Wolosin, founder of Parents for Safe Routes, and Max Fennell, a pro Black triathlete and entrepreneur.

Comments

Whatever
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 11:22 pm
Whatever, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 11:22 pm
Like this comment

Well the silence is deafening. Almanac a picture of the candidate would be more informative than the one you included of the dreary, empty entrance to city hall. It would help put a face to the candidate.


Brian
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 24, 2020 at 9:09 am
Brian, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 24, 2020 at 9:09 am
4 people like this

So…rent control and a police force that doesn't enforce the law. Got it.

It's very clear they have absolutely no idea what the role of government is in our lives. Hint for future candidates: it's not using government force to make landlords accept arbitrary prices and destroy supply/demand, and it's not undermining the police, whose (legitimate!) job is to enforce laws, not produce "compassionate" outcomes for criminals.

These candidates are pathetic.


Callitwhatitis
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 24, 2020 at 10:42 am
Callitwhatitis, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 24, 2020 at 10:42 am
4 people like this

Who is she kidding she says that military police were taught to shoot to wound and not to kill? Civilian police are taught to shoot to stop the threat not to kill. If you are saying that they are taught to kill in the police academy, it’s show your ignorance. Use of deadly force is always the last resort. It’s not tv folks cops aren’t taught to shoot the gun out of the bad guys hand. And there are no rules for bad guys, they do what ever they want! Wake up America the police are not the enemy.


new guy
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 24, 2020 at 11:20 am
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 24, 2020 at 11:20 am
8 people like this

Ok, rent control again. Still would like to know how these candidates expect to implement it. Since there will be a near unlimited demand for low rent/fixed forever rent, will there be a lottery, what income level will be allowed, can I transfer it to my kids? You know, the little things, "be better?" is that it. So, real question here, should someone making $15.00 be able to "afford" to live here? and if you believe this (and could figure out a way to implement this), then I will quit my incredibly stressful job I do to be able to "afford" to live here, and get a job at Starbucks. Unfortunately there are no Starbucks in Atherton, but I could easily relocate to Malibu, they have a couple Starbucks there, and hey, no stress, 40 hours a week sounds great, and I demand to be able to afford it, and with 2 kids too. Just asking


Gail Slocum
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:58 pm
Gail Slocum, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 31, 2020 at 2:58 pm
7 people like this

I, for one, am glad to see Chelsea is thinking about running for council. While I don't 100% agree with some of her early statements about her desired policy solutions, I and many should be concerned addressing housing affordability and racial justice in our own backyard. But such discussions are best when informed by local data. I hope Chelsea will pursue such data, and take what many see as the toxic/corrosive culture too often found in Town Square opinion postings with a grain of salt. Rather, I believe our City needs to foster constructive dialog that is respectful of views different from our own, and that all sides will ground their proposals in relevant facts/data. I trust that Chelsea would be open to reviewing the data, and having such a dialog; I hope to speak to her soon in such a spirit. Whether she is elected or not, I welcome her stepping up unto community leadership in some form to keep such concerns top of mind in all decision-making for Menlo Park. Perhaps after we can analyze a range of people's various potential approaches we might even find a creative third way? We are, after all, in a center of innovation here in Menlo Park.


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