To Sankalp Varma, nothing makes more sense than having an Uber driver serve on the city council.
“It gives me a very real perspective on the community,” he said.
Actually, Varma, 47, is so much more than a driver. His father earned his Ph.D. in chemistry and metallurgy in his native India, and his mother was descended from royalty, he said. Sankalp, which can be translated from Hindi to mean “determination,” moved with his family from India to the Bronx, then Levittown, Penn., El Toro (now Lake Forest), Winston-Salem, N.C., Bonita, Sherman Oaks and Santa Clarita, where he lives with his wife and son.
The birth of his son, Max, four years ago is what put him on the path to Uber. He had already made his money working in production and post-production in the entertainment industry. Then he started DVD manufacturing for Lightning Media. At his peak, he made one million DVDs a month. When the DVD market downturned in 2011 in favor of digital downloads and streaming, Varma started distributing regional Indian films.
Max’s birth made him rethink his priorities. “I’m at a point where I’m lucky enough to spend time with him when I want,” he said.
He said he typically works 5:30 a.m.-noon (although he spoke to the Gazette at 10:15 a.m. Monday), then spends time with wife and son before heading back out at night.
As he gives rides to his various customers, it sometimes resembles HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions.” Riders talk about their problems and Varma listens, sometimes mentioning that he’s running for council.
What he hears has helped form his platform, which he says are full of “forward-thinking ideas with progressive ways to accomplish (them).”
Millennials and empty nesters bemoan a lack of nightlife. Varma can’t count the number of times he’s given rides to partygoers who have to leave the valley to drink, dance, socialize and whatever else they have in mind.
His idea: a rooftop club to take advantage of the wonderful views. It can have the alcohol flowing or it can be dry, depending on the need. He also thinks an entertainment and retail district near Six Flags Magic Mountain, similar to Universal CityWalk, would be a good idea.
Another group he often drives are those who need medical marijuana, convincing him that a dispensary is needed locally.
“If Canada has completely legalized it, and if our state has completely legalized it, there’s no reason people have to leave Santa Clarita to go get medicine,” he said.
The homeless population could be served by opening some sort of spiritual center to help people get sober “and get them work-ready immediately,” he said.
He’d also like to see a hospital or medical center in Canyon Country. As great as he finds Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (Max was born there four years ago), “every minute counts,” and traffic can make the trip longer.
To combat traffic, he proposes a monorail system and a people mover based out of the dry Santa Clara River that can connect the communities. “I live in traffic every single day,” he said. “I’ve heard we need to create more roads. We need a long-term solution. There’s a 30-year planned community near Magic Mountain (Newhall Ranch). That will bring 50,000 to 100,000 more people.”
Finally, he would like to see the city build an Olympic training center to coincide with the 2028 Los Angeles Games. He envisions an indoor track but also would like to include Castaic Lake in some way.
It took several tries during the 38-minute interview to get Varma to explain how the city council could help in these matters. He said he could provide the leadership to create opportunities, but it would take community members to step forward and put them into action. He said as a councilmember he could help by directing people to various federal grants and incentive programs or by seeking charitable trusts to donate.
The most important thing right now, he said, is to come up with ideas. “That’s what’s really missing,” he said. “It takes a community to get on the same page.”