Alumnus Kyle Heiskala: Age is Just a Number?

Photo courtesy of Kyle Heiskala.

“I want it to be done now. I don’t want to wait until I’m ‘old enough’ to run for public office — ‘old enough’ to be a leader.”

For UCSD alum Kyle Heiskala, that “it” is creating lasting change through policy, taking initiative to solve problems he deeply cares about, and shaping the lives of people on a day-to-day basis. In his senior year at UCSD, just last year, he emerged as a prominent student leader, developing a $20 million transportation program for 31,000 students. In his first year as a college graduate, Heiskala is running for a seat on the San Diego City Council. He declared his candidacy at the very last minute in March, becoming the lastand youngestto join four others in the race to represent District 1.

Without any hesitation, Kyle Heiskala used the word “fun” to describe working in local government. Over our conversation, I gained a better understanding of his definition of fun: creating solutions to issues and seeing the impact of policy in a local setting.

His genuine passion for community organizing is refreshing, clearly different from the majority of millennials who are cynical towards government or anything resembling a bureaucracy. Kyle Heiskala’s mission is to change the world through his own capacities, combining both his knowledge and conscience to ensure the preservation of the environment.

“I love impossible challenges that make people scratch their heads and say, ‘There’s no solution to this.’ I think to myself, ‘Yeah, I want to try and solve that.’”

Heiskala’s legacy and his proudest contributions are services he created that students use everyday. He is the person to thank for the U-Pass transit system and the bike paths that adjoin our campus, among other things.

In 2013, university administration threatened to completely dissolve the transit service that provided over 1.5 million rides every year. Under the pressure of a budget deficit, the administration also announced it would raise parking rates. At the time, Heiskala was working as an intern for the Student Sustainability Collective. Heiskala recognized the importance of the issue and fought on behalf of students. If the school no longer supported a transit service, students would have had to pay $72 out of pocket every month for a bus pass, in addition to an increase in parking fees.

He negotiated with two transit systems, the Metropolitan Transit System and the North County Transit District, to develop a new program, known as U-Pass, for all undergraduate and graduate students to have affordable access to transportation. To this day, Heiskala remembers the exact sticker price of each student per quarter that he negotiated: $49.96.

“It was very important that it was below $50. The first time they came back with a price they said, ‘Oh it’s $50.21.’ I said, ‘No, we can rework this and get it below 50.’”

His attention and care for that 25 cents is perhaps the most subtle and clear indicator of his commitment to those he serves. Heiskala recalled months of negotiations and student organizing to be able to propose this plan to the student body in the spring quarter of 2014. His hard work paid off: 75 percent of students voted in favor of the unprecedented plan.

Heiskala’s efforts on the UCSD campus are not isolated or randomthey are tangible extensions of his concern and passion for the community, stemming from his belief in the potential of local government to make meaningful impacts on the lives of ordinary citizens. More broadly, he believes in its power to shape the future and preservation of the environment. This is at the core of his campaign for San Diego City Council.

Of the nine issues on his campaign platform in the race for San Diego City Council, Heiskala prioritizes environmental sustainability the most.

“We need to start planning now. I find that some of our political leadership isn’t thinking more so much toward the long term. They’re older, they’re retired, and they’re set in their ways where the decisions that are being made impact me and my fellow millennials much longer, where we’ll be around to see the impacts of climate change.”

Although Heiskala is the youngest candidate in the race, he does not see his age as a deterrence. Rather, Heiskala thinks it gives him even more reason to run, recognizing the urgency of this particular issue. He has had a personal sense of responsibility for the environment for as long as he could remember, but determined his role in saving it through his college career: first majoring in electrical engineering with the hope of developing energy technology, then realizing the impact of policy.

“We have the ability to do things differently [with developing technology] but where everything was getting hung up was the political process.”

He realized that his true strength was not in mastering graphing equations in the seventh dimension, but in developing solutions to solve problems within communities. Regardless of this election’s outcome, Heiskala is sure to continue making a difference in the community.

“I would be an advocate for the future of our generation. It hasn’t even been a year since my last UCSD classes, I still feel like a student sometimes! The problems that people our age face, they’re my problems too. We need a voice and a seat at the table because the decisions being made today will affect us the longest.”

Shine Cho is a staff writer for The Triton. She can be reached at soc031@ucsd.edu.