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Board of Supervisors Candidates Look to Persuade Voters: Who Can Help People Best

Whether it was unusually high interest in the Santa Clara County District 4 Board of Supervisors’ race or a reflection of Democrats’ enthusiasm about the 2018 elections, Monday’s Santa Clara County Democratic Club’s candidates forum was standing room only, with the crowd overflowing into the hallway at Harry’s Hofbrau.

It was a friendly audience for the five candidates, all of whom could be described as centrist or center-left progressives—former Campbell Mayor Jason Baker, Santa Clara City Council Member Dominic Caserta, San José Unified School District Board President Susan Ellenberg and former San José City Council Members Pierluigi Oliverio and Don Rocha.

Baker captured the zeitgeist of the evening when he said in his closing remarks, “I’m glad we’re having a contest of who can help homeless people more.”


Ken Yeager, the current occupant of the seat, moderated the forum and the questions asked focused on social issues—housing, medical care, homelessness, domestic violence—and opposing the actions of the Trump administration. Although the role of the Board of Supervisors is regional, there was little or no discussion about economic growth, the inevitable future economic downturn, business development, jobs or transportation.

The most significant difference of opinion was on the extent to which county government can or should mount an opposition to presidential policy.

The notable dissenter from the County’s current active opposition policy was Oliverio. Saying that the best use of his County Supervisor seat would be “serving residents,” he said,  “Three-fourths of the [County] budget is derived from federal and state government. Whatever this administration does we have to deal with it.”

To Rocha that federal funding was a compelling reason for active opposition. “Federal action can’t be ignored,” he said. “We’re seeing … challenges to finding social programs. All of us should be ready to step up.”

Caserta’s analysis, which he has articulated on other occasions, is that the states rights clause of the U.S. Constitution empowers local and state governments to fight federal overreach. “Our values must be reflected in the actions we take” he said, noting that he has consistently opposed federal government overreach when it wasn’t such a popular thing—for example, in the case of 2002’s Patriot Act.

Baker went further, saying in response to a question about County action in response to federal gutting of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that, “this is going to be a disaster. The answer is [for Democrats] to win the House and the Senate.”

The other candidates proposed more local actions in the face of congressional undermining of the ACA.

Saying that Covered California “works,” Caserta made the argument for building on that success. “The County is a services organization and its works.” The next step, he said, is single-payer healthcare, which is already under consideration by the California legislature (Healthy California Act, SB 562).

Ellenberg said that in the face of constrained resources her focus would be on maintaining services at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “Budgets are statements of values,” she said. “If we lose the healthcare dollars, we have to prioritize. My priority would be keeping Valley Med open to anyone in the County.”

The subject of homelessness was one that touched on many others—from addiction treatment, to families and children, to education, to care for the mentally ill.

Oliverio’s signature issue is expanding treatment and services for the severely mentally ill. Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in the 1960s and 1970s effectively abandoned many people, he said, exacerbating today’s housing and homelessness crises.

Housing was a regional challenge, said Baker, and the Supervisors had to be the ones to provide leadership. Land acquisition was key to the County’s ability to meaningfully increase affordable housing, said Rocha.

Ellenberg followed by saying, “The County is not in the housing development business. We need to work with private developers for permanent housing” with an ongoing and stable income stream.

Oliverio said that the County’s ability to alleviate the housing shortage was limited. “Without a city approving a project, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “The role of County Supervisor to be there when the dialog is going on,” and to build consensus around densities that aren’t arbitrary, but “make sense” in the larger context of a neighborhood and community.

“The vast majority of women end up on the street as a result of domestic violence,” said Ellenberg. It’s far less disruptive and more cost-effective, she said, to get the abusers out of the home than to resettle the rest of the family.

The session wrapped up with a discussion of unmet needs in the County, that included: social justice education, keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system, expanding addiction rehab services, upgrading county election computer systems and increasing the availability of rape testing kits throughout the County.

The Santa Clara County Democratic Club is one of the County’s oldest and largest political clubs. General meetings are held on the third Monday of the month at Harry’s Hofbrau in San José on Saratoga Avenue between Keily and Stevens Creek Boulevard For information visit


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