Community leader Harbir Kaur Bhatia running for Santa Clara City Council
Harbir Kaur Bhatia stands in front of the Santa Clara City Hall chambers, after filing to run for the District 1 seat Tuesday.

Longtime civic entrepreneur and organizer Harbir Kaur Bhatia threw her name into the ring for Santa Clara City Council Tuesday.

Running for the District 1 seat held by Councilmember Kathy Watanabe, she said her background in grassroots organizing would be an asset at City Hall. Bhatia said she’d push for a better quality of life, more diverse voices at the table and maintaining sustainable goals in the ever-changing future of the Mission City.

“I realized that probably is what we need to help everyone get along, and help everyone feel included – to give everybody a voice,” Bhatia told San José Spotlight. “At the end of the day, I just want to create a higher quality of life. I really believe that I have my heart in the right place, and I get things done.”

If elected, she hopes to bring in more affordable housing, community benefits from developments, climate action planning and data-driven fiscal planning to benefit decades-long residents and new transplants alike.

A Santa Claran since 2004, Bhatia serves as president of the Santa Clara Library Foundation, sits on the city’s Cultural Commission and is on the board of the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce, where she said she works to highlight how businesses and the workforce must work together to coexist.

In addition to her engineering background in the tech industry and her own startups, the 49-year-old brings more than 30 years of community organizing to the table, including time on the San Jose Gurdwara Relations Committee, Santa Clara Cultural Commission and the nonprofit Joy of SEWA. Most recently, Bhatia founded the Santa Clara Community Coalition to help battle COVID-19, which has donated thousands of masks and face shields, and created food pantries and senior welfare calls.

Bhatia said her drive to serve fellow Santa Clarans comes from her Sikh principles of the betterment of all and service above self.

New leadership is needed at City Hall, she said, especially as civil unrest, racial inequities, the growing rate of unemployment and continued high expense of living in the South Bay continue to impact residents’ lives.

“I think we’ve become very stagnant in how we run our cities and how we think about the future,” she said. “These things are what the new world is going to be like. It is not going to be bureaucracy existing for the sake of bureaucracy.”

She said she will not engage in bitter, divisive politics on the dais, which has often happened in Santa Clara, but instead work to build bridges with political colleagues.

Bhatia said she respects Watanabe’s work on the council but she’s challenging her re-election because she sees where the city can improve – including managing Levi’s Stadium, which is located in District 1.

Currently working as the director of community benefit and innovation for developer SiliconSage Builders, Bhatia said her experience in that role helps her understand complex contracts and bureaucracy.

“Instead of creating value, (the stadium’s) becoming a common conversation topic of disappointment and divisiveness in our community,” she said, pointing to the city and football team’s tumultuous relationship of infighting and lawsuits. “When you bring in an organization like the 49ers in the city, you better make sure that you also bring in the right kind of support to manage that relationship. We’re not getting the revenue our city needs out of it and we’re not spending our time on other things that could create value.”

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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