Vail Town Council race: Nejad Chaney: ‘Grass roots’ is her strength
This story has been updated.
VAIL — Immigrants often have a deeper appreciation of this country — especially if they’ve had to dodge bullets in their native land. Sounia Nejad Chaney counts herself today as a grateful American.
Nejad Chaney and her family immigrated from her native Iran in the late 1970s. As her mother put it, “My family and I did not escape from Iran but we came by choice to embrace the challenging life of immigrants, start from zero, just because we knew that America is the land of opportunity for the individuals who want to work hard.”
Still, Nejad Chaney saw evidence of the repressive regime run by the Shah, the nation’s then-ruler.
“I saw the good, the bad and the ugly about countries,” she said.
Having lived in the U.S. for most of her life, Nejad Chaney — now a married mother of four — still loves “everything” about it, particularly the freedom of expression that was denied to Iranians under the Shah (and remains scarce under the current regime).
“I never miss a chance to vote,” she said. “I can’t complain unless I’m willing to get involved.”
And Nejad Chaney rarely misses a chance to get involved in issues she’s passionate about. A couple of years ago, she spearheaded a successful effort to have the principal of the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy reinstated after being fired by school district officials.
“That gave me hope that if people come together, that if people stay respectful, they can get things done,” Nejad Chaney said.
The Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy was what drew Nejad Chaney and her family to Vail from the Washington, D.C., area. The family looked around at various resorts and programs to help their ski-racing kids and decided the best choice was Vail.
“Vail had the best mountain, the best club and a small-town feel,” she said. “My kids can ride the bus anywhere.”
After moving to Vail, Nejad Chaney kept running her IT consulting company, but got involved in the community as a ski instructor for young kids, joining the ski and snowboard academy’s PTA and helping out at the Vail Interfaith Chapel. Those experiences have given her a good sense of the breadth of both the local community and its visitors, she said.
Nejad Chaney herself has been on the receiving end of what she calls Vail’s “welcoming spirit,” said she wants to spread that spirit around.
Part of that welcome has to extend to housing and parking, Nejad Chaney said. It’s a good thing a redo of the Timber Ridge apartments is finally on the visible horizon, she said. And the for-sale housing planned for the Chamonix neighborhood is chance to perhaps take on both housing and parking at the same time.
“I’ve seen a trend of people wanting to move back to Vail,” she said. “A friend of ours just moved from Homestead back to Vail.”
On the housing side, Nejad Chaney said Vail needs to do more to draw families to town, both through housing policies and support for Red Sandstone Elementary School. Besides the school, Nejad Chaney said Vail needs to put more focus on “lifestyle” amenities for both local residents and visitors.
“Can we revisit a (swimming) pool?” she said. “And can we have a permanent skate park? Minturn may have a better skate park than we do.”
That’s a lot to consider. In the immediate future, Nejad Chaney said there could be an opportunity for parking beneath the planned homes at Chamonix. She also wondered if the town, City Market and Vail Resorts could find a way to make better use of the sparsely used underground parking at the supermarket in West Vail.
Beyond adding or repurposing existing spaces, Nejad Chaney said the town would be well-served by developing a smartphone app that gives real-time information about where there’s available parking at both town-owned and private parking structures.
The whole idea is to treat people well, she said, from opponents of a plan to rebuild the clubhouse at the Vail Golf Course to a tourist who needs a ride — which Nejad Chaney said she did for someone recently when that person couldn’t catch a cab from Vail Village to West Vail.
“We need to improve the experience for everyone,” she said.