The large blue and white election posters lining the windows next to Face Cafe on Valley Boulevard make Edwin “Ed” Chau’s campaign office hard to miss. Chau, a lawyer and member of the Montebello School Board, is the Democratic candidate for the 49th State Assembly District, which includes Alhambra and large portions of the West San Gabriel Valley. His opponent, Dr. Matthew Lin, is a surgeon and a Republican.
Married with one daughter, Chau currently lives in Monterey Park but opened a private law practice in Alhambra more than 18 years ago. We sat down with Chau at his Alhambra headquarters to discuss his history with the city, love for public service, and goals if elected to state assembly.
What connections do you have to Alhambra?
Alhambra is where I started my law practice more than 18 years ago. When I first started, I rented an office at 801 S. Garfield Ave. Then I moved to 506 N. Garfield Ave. and that’s where I stayed for more than 15 years before moving to South Pasadena last year. I’ve been serving people who live in Alhambra as well as the San Gabriel Valley area.
If elected, what do you plan to achieve? Why do you want to be an assemblyman?
This campaign is about protecting education. I’d like to continue to advocate on behalf of the students. When we talk about the economy and the recovery that we are undergoing, we have to look at education as the ultimate solution.
Education has really played a major role in my life. It has changed my life, opened many doors, gave me a lot of options. I think the next generation should also deserve something that I experienced.
I also want more job creation. I helped build a brand new school in Montebello called the Applied Technology Center, which prepares our kids not only for college but also for a career pathway of their choice, for example engineering, hospitality, or health care. So in a sense we are helping to create jobs. I think we need to make that connection at the state level.
Environmental issues: the 49th Assembly District is sitting on top of many Superfund sites, so we also need to continue to help water clean up. We need open space, more parks, clean energy.
I have a diverse background in education, law, business, and computers — I was an engineer for IBM for almost a decade. As an engineer I was there to find solutions to problems. So I have a very methodical way to finding solutions. Giving my diverse background, I could bring a lot to the table.
What do you think distinguishes you from your opponent Dr. Matthew Lin?
I have a track record of bringing people together to find solutions to problems. For the past 12 years I’ve been serving on the Montebello School Board. I’ve been working with folks from all walks of life: parents, teachers, administrators, students, and community partners who come from different backgrounds, party affiliations, and ideologies. Yet, we’ve been able to work very well together in finding ways to help improve education for our kids. We’ve been able to balance our budget every year, which is $200 million on the average, without a single teacher lay off.
Public service has always been my calling throughout the years. I served as a judge pro tem for the court to make our court system accessible to the community for about 10 years. I did work for various agencies, including the American Legal Center, the Legal Aide Foundation of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, the Department of Social Services, and the Chinatown Service Center.
I was also a volunteer Chinese radio broadcaster for more than 10 years. I would gather all the news stories and then make sure we covered all the pertinent issues and the listeners were aware of them. I was also helping to do stories. For example, let’s say there’s a legal issue, let’s say wills and trust, then I would do something about that.
Lin stated in his interview that residents should vote for him since he’s lived in the district 34 years and you’ve only lived here 9 or 10 months. Readers also asked, “Are you ‘district shopping?’”
I’ve been serving the community and the assembly district for a long time. I’ve been on the Montebello School Board for the last 12 years. And the school district overlaps with many portions of the assembly district, such as parts of Montebello, Monterey Park, South San Gabriel, and Rosemead.
For more than 15 years I’ve been practicing law at my small business in Alhambra. I have a very close tie to the district.
Lin also said: “I have a background in running a business in the local area and I really know how a business works…Ed Chau is a personal injury lawyer, so it’s decidedly different.” How would you respond to that?
As the principal owner of my law firm, I am also a small business owner. I have to look at my bottom line every single month. I have a payroll to meet, employees, workers’ compensation, rent. I also understand the struggles and issues that small businesses face on a daily basis.
As far as the issue with being a personal injury lawyer, essentially I’ve been representing small business owners. I help them start their own companies. Every so often I have a client who has a car accident and that’s also an area I’m well versed in. But I help with litigation, immigration, and real estate work. So to characterize me as a personal injury lawyer is totally inaccurate.
A new poll by the Asian American Justice Center found that Asian Americans are largely underengaged in the political process, and our readers have brought up that there is little awareness among residents about what is actually happening in local government. What are some of your ideas for improving communication and civic participation?
I agree that the new 49th Assembly District is very diverse. We could understand people from other cultures, different ethnic backgrounds, and that’s something we should treasure.
Having said that, I believe that the way to encourage more civic engagement or participation is by communication to these folks. I have been the bridge between the government and the community, to be able to communicate to constituents that I’m here for them. And I want to bring resources to these folks to make sure that government really is a part of them and they are a part of government.
Also having community forums and getting the message out to these folks that they should participate and be a part of government. Make sure that their voice is represented and they are what make up the government and the policies under the government.
Some residents feel that there is too much local development, and some would like to see more development. What is your perspective?
In general I believe more development would bring forth more job opportunities. However, having said that, we have to strike a balance between development and residential areas. We have to look at many factors to determine what is saturated, what is the optimal level of development. And then obviously we have to listen to the constituents. Overdevelopment is not good, and underdevelopment is not good either. So it’s a balancing act.
What do you like about Alhambra?
I enjoy being in Alhambra, and I think Alhambra is a very nice community. People are very courteous and it is also a place where everything is pretty much within walking distance, for example good restaurants.
Almansor Park is a good place because of the open space, because of the serenity. I sometimes take my daughter there. I used to play golf at the driving range over there. I still use the pool at the YMCA.
I truly think that together we can make a difference. I’m very optimistic about the future and really looking forward to serving the community.
Interview was edited and condensed. This story is not an endorsement.