Minority groups in Santa Clara are coming together this election to push back against what they call a “cycle of discrimination” in Santa Clara’s City Hall. At a news conference at Rivermark on Wednesday, four City Council candidates representing minority groups were joined by local civic leaders to denounce the current makeup of Santa Clara’s City Council.
“We have set here through the last 10 years, dealing with the Santa Clara City Council that doesn’t seem to recognize that they have different people in their communities,” said Rev. Jethroe Moore II, President of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP. “No more appointing friends and cousins of distant relatives. No more just, ‘If you know me, you’re in and you don’t, you’re out.’ Let’s open up Santa Clara for the diversity that it is and be inclusive of everyone.”
According to the City’s website, 43 percent of people in Santa Clara are “White alone,” 17.4 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 2.9 percent are “Black or African American alone,” and 41.3 percent are “Asian alone.” Yet, the six-person city council is made up of only one minority member, Councilmember Raj Chahal. Chahal was at Wednesday’s news conference, where he said change needs to be made now.
“Let me be very frank, the appointments being made by pick and choose, not based on the real qualification or how much experience somebody has, have been another way where discrimination was being used time and again,” said Chahal.
City Council candidates Harbir Bhatia (District 1), Kevin Park (District 4), Suds Jain (District 5) and Anthony Becker (District 6) all hope they can bring that diversity to the city council. They say this is about making sure everyone has a voice in the community, not just a select few.
“The real diversity that we’re lacking on City Council is thinking,” said Park. “When you’ve got a group of City Council people that tout and actively flaunt their council majority, that’s a problem. When you have too many people thinking the same way, then you’re not going to get diversity. You’re not going to get real progress. You’re not going to see what’s allowed because you only have a limited number of voices that are telling you things.”
“This city is just run by the old mentality of ‘just keep things the same,’ and that means Council,” said Jain. “I’m not playing the race card here. We have very highly educated people running on this side of the slate and we’re bringing new ideas. We want to try new innovative things.”
All four candidates have served on commissions within the city and have worked with city foundations. Some say that during that work, they experienced first-hand what it was like to be a minority in Santa Clara.
“I was on the Cultural Commission. Constantly, my ideas were oppressed. I never knew why until later, because I was a threat to the majority,” said Bhatia. “I didn’t know that. They’d let some of my ideas pass through, but the majority of my ideas, which were really to celebrate diversity, were constantly stepped on.”
All four say that the City’s insistence to continue to fight against the court ordered six-district election system is a waste of resources and proof that current city leaders want to continue to suppress the minority.
“If they actually wanted minority representation, they could legislate minority representation,” said Park. “But they’re not. Instead, they’re fighting the lawsuit which is trying to give us minority representation.”
“In 60 to 70 years, we finally got our first minority elected council member, which was Raj Chahal in 2018. In that election, we witnessed what districts can do and the power of what districts can do because it is direct democracy and connecting the people to the leaders,” said Becker.