Former Menlo Park City Council member Peter Ohtaki has pulled papers to run against incumbent Mayor Betsy Nash in District 4, kicking off Menlo Park's first contested City Council race of the year.
"I believe that local government should be responsive to the needs of local residents and operate efficiently and transparently and solve problems that are facing the community without ideological bias, but rather an approach of problem-solving and analytics and common sense," Ohtaki said.
Ohtaki grew up in Menlo Park starting in fifth grade, attending local schools before going to Harvard University for his bachelor's degree in economics and returning to the Peninsula to receive his MBA from Stanford University.
He returned to Menlo Park 20 years ago, jumping into local politics in 2007 when was elected to the board of directors of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. In 2010, he ran for a seat on the Menlo Park City Council and was elected, serving two terms ending in 2018, including two years as mayor. Since leaving the council, Ohtaki has been a member of the San Mateo County Transit Authority Citizens Advisory Committee and ran unsuccessfully to challenge Rep. Anna Eshoo for her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the June primary.
When it comes to issues in Menlo Park, Ohtaki says he has one major theme for his campaign, which is to "bring common-sense competence back to the City Council." That can be done, he said, by way of neighborhood preservation, traffic prevention and reopening of Menlo Park following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Neighborhood density is a major problem to Ohtaki, who said he believes the current City Council isn't fighting back with enough fervor against the consequences of growth, such as overcrowding in schools, caused by Senate Bill 9 (SB 9). Ohtaki said the effects of SB 9 are threatening the neighborhoods of Menlo Park.
The controversial statewide duplex law allows property owners in single-family zones to subdivide their lots and build up to two units on each resulting lot, resulting in a maximum of four units, without the need for discretionary approval from planning commissions or city councils.
"(SB 9 is) certainly something that needs to be addressed to preserve the reason why people have moved here in the first place: to have safe quiet neighborhoods (where) they could raise their families," Ohtaki said.
Traffic congestion is also a cornerstone of Ohtaki's campaign. He believes that stronger lobbying for federal funding, available through a $1.2 trillion nationwide bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in 2021, could reduce local traffic. Ohtaki said the bill could enable funding for grade separation and the Dumbarton Rail Corridor project, both of which have been key city objectives.
"This federal infrastructure bill is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get funding for those major projects that would have a major impact on reducing traffic congestion," Ohtaki said. "We need to be very active about lobbying for those funds."
Reopening Menlo Park following the COVID-19 pandemic is a focal point of Ohtaki's campaign as well. If elected, Ohtaki said he aims to bring back city events like the Easter egg hunt, holiday tree lighting, and related events that were canceled due to the pandemic. Ohtaki also said that he wants to restore police funding that was decreased during the height of the pandemic.
"All of these events and programs help to enhance our community, and were all very popular programs prior to the pandemic and have not been resumed, and (they) would go a long way to help restoring our sort of sense of normalcy and recovery post-pandemic," Ohtaki said.
Three incumbents are up for reelection this November, and incumbents Cecilia Taylor and Drew Combs are currently running unopposed for their seats in District 1 and District 2, respectively. Aug. 12 marks the last day for candidates to file papers to enter the race.