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Article from March 9, 2014 meeting

By Mohini Vaidya: Sophomore at MissionSan Jose High School

On March 9th 2014, a forum for Milpitas residents: Activating the community, was held at the city community room. Organized by the Milpitas Democratic Club, the event was conducted by Deepka Lalwani and moderated by Pattie Cortese.
Leaders from across the Milpitas community spectrum of education, business, non-profit, religion, environment, politics, and community/issue activists; met to discuss ways to improve community involvement. The key speakers were Milpitas Police Chief Steve Pangelilan and the city former mayor, Denny Weisberger. The core topic of the discussion was means to increase the voter turnout during elections as well as to raise awareness and interest in the citizens to engage themselves in Milpitas community affairs.

The Police Chief started off the meeting by giving a brief summary of how the police department operates. He then elaborated on how the number of police officers had significantly decreased during the recession. However, he was pleased by the emergency response times of his department and the decrease in crime rate in the city. He also assured everyone that the police force is always fully aware of all the on-going issues in the city. Next, former mayor spoke about various activities to get people involved in the community. He explained that many people shy away from getting involved due to the politics around it. Some people just do not want to deal with anything political while others blindly follow the path of the party they support. He also said that people have the notion that their votes will not make a difference considering how many other people go to vote. He emphasized that every vote counts, especially in a local election. Additionally, he brought up the major problem of communication and how citizens do not make enough efforts to get to know the candidates that are running for office. He said, this is the biggest problem in our county: for the citizens to be able to talk to the people who are in charge. You can talk to the councilmen, talk to the mayor, talk to the police chief, talk to the fire chief. You can talk to all of these people on a one on one basis.

As each of the members of the forum spoke, they brought up new perspectives and creative ideas to resolve the ongoing issues that the city faces. Tanuja Bahal, executive director of the India Community center (ICC), talked about the increase in ethnic diversity in Milpitas. She said that as the population of diverse groups increase, the community must make changes to connect with different ethnicities. Gurdev Sandhu, chairman of the Sikh Foundation of Milpitas, voiced about people with economic welfare problems who cannot afford to miss work and take time off to go for voting. He suggested moving the voting day from Tuesday to Sunday, so that everyone in the community would get a chance to vote. Don Peoples, a Milpitas business owner, advised politicians by saying, “Have a heart for community service first. If you can figure out how to serve the community, as someone seeing problems and solving them, then you can be successful as a politician.” He also gave two ideas on how to make an impact on the community. The first was a long term plan to get high school students, involved in the community. This will make a direct impact in 10 to 20 years, but it will also make an indirect impact on their parents and other students. As a short term plan, he suggested interacting with other people in the community and being aware of community issues/events at all times, as opposed to only getting involved when there is a problem. Preeti Suri, also a business owner, discussed how Milpitas, being the gateway to Silicon Valley, has a lot of potential. She suggested getting leaders of corporations involved so that they could set an example for others. She also said that the biggest challenge is getting people of all ethnic groups involved in the community. Mike Mendizabal, a former member of the school board, reiterated the importance of voting, getting to know your neighbors, and building a community. He also emphasized the importance of getting involved in different community groups. Heidi Pham, who works for the County of Santa Clara Probation Department, pointed out how language can prevent some ethnic groups from voting and how that can be a challenging barrier. Deepka Lalwani, who coordinated this event, spoke about the importance of getting kids involved, so that they grow up as a part of the community. She also said that even though many people are afraid of being involved in politics, it is important to recognize that you have a voice and use it. She went on to say that getting to know your neighbors and the people in your community is the least you can do and is a necessary measure to get involved.

Pattie Cortese, a community volunteer and the moderator of the meeting agreed, saying that the best way to bring about transformation is by getting to know the people around you and making an effort to know their background and true character. Tom Valore, a member of the Chamber of Congress, talked about how people are very selfish with their time. He said, “Everybody is concerned about time. Time seems to be something that everybody has become very protective of. People want to have time for themselves, and are not willing to give that time to the community. It’s become very difficult to get people to contribute to the community and sacrifice some of that precious time.” Richard Ruth argued about how people who do not vote are putting the future of their community at risk. If people do not use their voice and vote, politicians who are incapable of the job may be put into office and hinder the progress of the community. He suggested using social networking sites to advertise campaigns and elections. Joan Goddard, a part-time librarian, shed light on different programs offered by the library which can help get kids involved and educate people about community events and happenings. Cyd Mathias, an elementary school teacher, mentioned the importance of being involved with the school district. She encouraged people to talk to the city hall about the overpopulation of students in the school district. She further added her opinion on how citizens should be aware of language and housing problems. I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of the youth population of Milpitas. I voiced my fellow teens by explaining how they are willing to take time out of their busy schedule and get involved in the community, but they are unaware of how to do so. Informing students of upcoming community service projects and volunteering opportunities is not only beneficial to the community now, but it will also help our generation stay involved in the future. The audience also brought up some concerns and questions. Nancy Mendizabal, suggested finding a way to make people vote for personal reasons. Arzhnag Kalbali said, “People who work for the city have been conditioned to work in one frame of mind that is very defined…and maybe people from outside can come up with better ideas and solutions to the problems that we are having.” He also spoke about how the key to solving a problem is getting to the root of it and asking why it is happening. Sue D’Amico talked about how absentee voting is a tool that we should educate people about, so that citizens who don’t have time to go and vote in person can still have a voice. This community forum brought up different perspectives on issues and fresh ideas to get people involved. Members from various walks of life contributed to an insightful and thought provoking discussion. Enthusiastic audience showed a lot of interest and requested for a follow-up meeting to continue further brainstorming on effective solutions. They expressed that there should be similar meetings on a regular basis where citizens can express their ideas and opinions.

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