Happy Valley council applicants could make state history
Two applicants to a seat on the Happy Valley City Council would make history if appointed.
Both currently serving on multiple city advisory committees, David Emami and Ana Sarish have wide-ranging qualifications for the position and have made it to the final six out of 14 applicants for the city's vacant council spot.
If appointed, Emami would become the first Iranian-American member of a city council in Oregon's history, and Sarish would become the first Indian-American councilor in Happy Valley and the second such councilor in the state.
This newspaper already has profiled two other finalists for the position and next week plans to profile two more.
Emami is a member of Happy Valley's Planning Commission and Parks Advisory Committee. A father of two young children in Happy Valley, he is a concerned citizen and president of his homeowners association in the Jackson Hills neighborhood.
"Diversity in our thoughts and opinions is what makes us stronger as a community," Emami wrote in an application for appointment. "My entire career is based on providing solutions for people in all walks of life and bringing people together towards a common goal."
Emami is a registered member of the Independent Party who supported former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer's bid last year to become state representative in House District 51. He says he has received endorsements from both sides of the aisle for his council appointment, but he is keeping those names private for now to avoid becoming a polarizing figure seeking a nonpartisan seat.
"As one of the few people in Happy Valley who attends City Council meetings, school board meetings and other governmental-related events on a regular basis, I am very familiar with the processes of how our institutions work," he wrote.
Emami was proud of how he recently helped his homeowners association think outside the box to remove blackberries and other invasive species from a wetland area, hiring a goat herder for $4,000 rather than going with an approximately $29,000 bid from companies using more traditional weed-removal methods. He wants to serve a community he loves, and said he has no interest in an office higher than City Council.
"I have a very flexible work schedule at Ferguson Enterprises that allows me to be in different places at different times and I have the full blessing of our management team to pursue this endeavor," he wrote.
Emami is a member or the Scouters Mountain PTA and serves as an early intervention advocate for the Oregon Department of Education. As a member of the new United Community Alliance of Happy Valley working group, he wants to give underrepresented locals a voice in making the city a more welcoming place.
"I would be honored and proud to be a role model for other boys and girls who look like me," Emami wrote in an application for appointment. "As someone who understands the racism, prejudice and stereotypes that come with being a minority, I could be a strong voice for the underrepresented and a champion of the people."
As the Pioneer Highlands development made its way through City Hall, Emami attended countless public meetings, rallying neighbors to mobilize residents concerned about the development. He noted that many neighbors who opposed the development felt hopeless after it was approved in a split City Council decision.
Emami said that instead of becoming discouraged, the political defeat for neighbors spurred him to "be the change" by applying and getting appointed to city advisory committees and the Clackamas County Street Light Budget Committee. He has largely changed his mind about whether the city was right to approve the development.
"A few years have gone by, and Pioneer Highlands and Scouters Mountain developments are being built out as we speak, and they are turning out nice," he wrote. "The other learning point for me was understanding the city planning code and what can and cannot be required of developers."
Sarish volunteers for the city's Budget Committee and Traffic & Public Safety Committee, in addition to being a PTO member, weekly classroom helper and chess-club organizer for local schoolchildren. She is employed as a senior adviser for Sunrise Mortgage Group.
As a member of the North Clackamas School District's Parent and Community Leadership Alliance, which identified several gaps in the school system, Sarish attended a recent meeting of the NCSD's Budget Committee.
She wrote in an application for appointment to City Council that NCSD's "finite dollars were trying to satisfy infinite needs," in reply to the city's request to provide an example of how she has worked collaboratively with others to make a difficult decision. After confronting the enormity of the task, she said the group then worked together to define needs based on objective measures rather than emotions.
"It was a very collaborative way for each individual to make a decision," she wrote.
As for growth in Happy Valley, Sarish says after "painful" changes she misses the "small valley" feel that she remembers from first moving to the city 15 years ago. She related to many longtime residents who have been surprised that a "sleepy little town" that had a 13,903 population in 2010 now has a population estimated at over 21,200.
"Having said that, embracing change and having a hand in defining what that change will look like is a powerful tool in creating the world I want to live in," she wrote.
Born in India, Sarish was adopted at age 9 by her aunt and uncle G.S. "Frank" and Mary Tiwari. Her uncle retired in 2007 as the public works director of Woodburn, where he had worked for decades.
Coming from a family of public servants, she has "seen firsthand how a city government works" and notes that "Indians in general tend to be quite active, because we come from a culture that is communal in a sense."
Growing up vegetarian in a family of Hindu-Americans, Sarish experienced racism, but she believes that most people are good at heart.
"People would invite me to parties and try to convert me," she said. "There is racism everywhere, but people in general are kinder than what they're showing on TV right now."
If she is appointed, she hopes citizens will recognize that she is more than qualified and a perfect fit for the type of person needed on the City Council right now. The Sarishes attend many city activities, and she wants to keep the city family-oriented, with an appropriate balance of residential and commercial areas.
"I would love to see our infrastructure discussed early and a comprehensive plan developed," she said. "I believe my ability to balance priorities will be helpful in making key decisions."
She said she applied because she thought the council was missing a female and minority perspective, but she wouldn't have put her name in the hat if she didn't think she would represent average Happy Valley residents well.
"I'm literally running on the fact that I love this community," she said. "My Indian heritage will have a huge impact on how I think, but my children are of mixed Hawaiian, Indian and European descent, and I want them to embrace every aspect of that."