Editor’s Note: In election coverage, we make every effort to give equal time to each candidate. During the forum for Santa Clara’s District 2 City Council seat, many of Larry McColloch’s answers were brief. As a result, a majority of the quotes included in this article are the entirety of Mr. McColloch’s answer on a given topic.
Incumbent City Council Member Raj Chahal and challenger Larry McColloch sat in Santa Clara City Council Chambers on Sept. 29 to tell District 2 residents why each of them was the best person to represent the district over the next four years. The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of San Jose/Santa Clara.
In his opening statement, Chahal spoke about endorsements from Congressman Ro Khanna and Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg and his accomplishments in his first term. He highlighted the recent $8.5 million shuttle program grant, his work distributing rental assistance, small business grants and food during COVID and the addition of affordable housing in his district.
McColloch promised to deal with two C’s if elected, “cash and corruption.”
“My specialty is making cash. And that is what I’ll be doing by landing new business for Santa Clara,” said McColloch. “My other C is corruption as in getting rid of corruption…If we want a better Santa Clara, we need more cash and less corruption.”
Housing and Development
Growing the City’s stock of affordable housing and dealing with new development in Santa Clara are two of the issues the next council will have to deal with.
When asked about affordable housing, McColloch’s answer was short.
“I’ll return to my opening statement where the plan for me to apply my specialty about being an innovator and bringing in cash from new business. That means cash available for low-cost housing assistance. Cash [is] usually the limit of how much we can do,” said McColloch.
Chahal pointed to the affordable housing that’s already in the process of being built both in his district and the City and promised more in the future.
“On top of that, in my second term, I’ll try to pass an ordinance that instead of 15%, we should be increasing affordability to 25% of all new dwellings,” said Chahal.
Both candidates were also asked about how they would reinvigorate the downtown.
Chahal gave credit to the grassroots movement for keeping the issue at the forefront and says he is committed to doing whatever the Council can do to bring the downtown back.
McColloch said he’d leave that to the Planning Commission and that “money” is his “main theme” for the night.
The candidates were also asked about what they would like to see happen at the Great America site once the theme park shuts down.
“Great America right now is a private property. The City does not play a direct role into what we can do with that. But the City has the land use zoning, which we control,” said Chahal. “The City Council can decide about what land use they want on that particular land.
“I wish we can still continue the entertainment district for that, one way or the other,” continued Chahal. “That would be my first preference. Because this has been a very iconic amusement park for the City, which none of the surrounding areas has it. And our teenagers, our younger generation they go there for their summer jobs. And so, this is very important if we can maintain that as an entertainment district.”
Again, McColloch kept his response brief.
“We should continue it as the entertainment zone. And we’d also like it to be complimentary to the stadium and relevant in Santa Clara,” said McColloch.
49ers Influence in Santa Clara
When asked how the City and Levi’s Stadium management could work together. McColloch once again kept his answer brief.
“I’ve had the suggestion that the City needs to learn how to deal with sharks and getting back to that it infers things like the interface to the 49ers even through attorneys, attorneys who don’t have a conflict of interest,” said McColloch.
Chahal said while he didn’t want the 49ers stadium, it’s here and he has worked hard to rebuild a relationship that soured in 2017.
“Me and Karen Hardy, we started building the relationship. And this will be the first year after 2017 when we will have some revenue, multimillion-dollar revenue, from the stadium to our general fund,” said Chahal.
McColloch used his rebuttal to point out that the City’s still dealing with the stadium debt.
“I’d like to refer to it as the stadium debt,” said McColloch. “When the stadium was sold to the City, we were expecting to have $50 million in the general fund by now and we only seen $15 [million], leaving a stadium debt of $30 million that’s being unanswered.”
When asked about 49ers money getting involved in local politics, Chahal said it’s the federal government that needs to deal with campaign funding reform, but he vehemently rejects any money from the 49ers.
“I myself, have pledged and I will publicly declare that I do not want any independent expenditure on my behalf, by 49ers or by anyone,” said Chahal. “This is the third election I’m running. I have not accepted any special interest money. I have returned checks. And I will not accept any special interest money.”
McColloch said it’s up to the voters.
“The money has been influential, and it’s only getting torrential. It is this vast amount of money,” said McColloch. “Again, it’s money that the Chronicle referred to as complete and total fealty to the 49ers.”
When asked by the moderator how he would change that, McColloch said, “I’m not sure how to deal with their free speech and we need the voters of the City to reject the messages and the negative TV ads that they place.”
City Budget Deficit
Santa Clara is facing a $27 million budget deficit and the candidates have two very different ways to go about tackling that deficit.
“To make the immediate money, I would follow the mayor,” said McColloch. “The mayor has laid out a plan for the City for the next year and I support that entirely. It would be the plan for immediate cash. In the long term. As I said, I’m a prolific innovator. And I presume that I could bring in new business to balance the budget.”
Chahal says Measure H, the business tax proposal currently on the ballot can help with the deficit. He also pointed to the $6 million lost in the CVRA lawsuit and the Related contract, both of which happened prior to his election to the City Council, as reasons for the current deficit.
“The Related project…what type of contracts we sign…We gave away our golf course. We gave away everything over there, and we are not given a single dime. The contract you sign has to be very instrumental towards our City,” said Chahal.
Both candidates were asked how they would improve the current mood of a council that is often seen as “divisive.”
For his part, Chahal says he has always maintained his demeanor and has never allowed differences to get in the way of a professional relationship with his colleagues.
“I do maintain my demeanor. Unfortunately, the council is not coalescing and I have tried my level best. We need to go for a retreat or something so that we all seven can sit together, find out the differences and not make personal differences as issues,” said Chahal. “When you make personal differences an issue, there’s a problem. We can differ on decisions what we make but we should never make that personal. I have been on Planning Commission. I have differed with my own colleagues. I have never made that an issue. So, the first thing, don’t make it personal.”
“I’m going to return to my C’s. Corruption is at the core of the disagreement. Corruption that we believe has extended from private meetings of some of the council with the 49ers that have been disclosed,” said McColloch. “Corruption where donations seem to correspond very close to 49er favorable votes, and it’s going to be up to the voters to end the corruption and the acrimony on the council.”
Chahal used his 30-second rebuttal time to respond.
“So, this so-called corruption…We have very much declared in 2018, myself and Karen Hardy, that we’ll sit together with the 49ers. And we always declared it on our calendar that we will go there,” said Chahal. “Since 2017 [we’ve had] $0 coming from the stadium, and here we are, we will be making multimillion-dollar this year. So, I don’t know what corruption my opponent is talking about. But if we try to mend our relationship and bring revenue for the residents, that would be great. And I think, Raj for Residents, I will bring revenue for the residents.”
City Manager Search
Santa Clara is without two of its top City positions, a City Manager and a City Attorney. The moderator asked both candidates what their ideal qualities for a City Manager would be.
For his part, Chahal could not elaborate on the City’s search because he has attended closed-session meetings on the issue as part of his role as council member. However, he did point out that the former City Manager was one of the highest paid in the state in her position.
“I was the one council member who did not support a revised contract which will increase her salary by around for this $40,000 with perks included,” said Chahal. “So, this is a problem. And that’s one thing. Our top few management are one of the highest [paid] in California again. We need to work on it [to] solve this budget deficit. And we want to hire the best talent, but it should be a competitive salary that we can offer.”
McColloch said he’s not worried about the pay as much as the competence of the next person.
“I’d be looking for competence. First, we’re talking about a billion dollar city that’s growing at one of the highest growth rates in California,” said McColloch. “I would consider competence more important than the pay that we’re talking about. The pay that we referred to as too high is not too high for a competent manager. Maybe there’s one available cheaper but I would be looking for competence over price.”
City Parks & Closing Statements
Both candidates agree, the City needs more parks.
“As finances allows,” said McColloch. “Again, one of my core C’s is cash and I anticipate that cash is available for everything including parks.”
“Parks are one of the very important places which our residents always try to go to and I will not hesitate to spend whatever extra dollars we have to maintain the park, improve the park and add more parks to the city of Santa Clara,” said Chahal.
In their closing statements, the candidates reiterated what they would do for Santa Clara if elected.
“I’m not a politician, but I am a prolific inventor with 63 patents, and I’ve made a career of $20 to $40 billion,” said McColloch. “I spoke here tonight, of my two C’s of making cash and getting rid of corruption. We’ve heard how many on the council focus on spending and not on earning and I would spend my time on the council focused on the earning side of the job.”
“From day one. My goal has been to improve the quality of life of our residents and just like my tag line, ‘Raj for Residents,’ I stick to that and always think of you before I vote,” said Chahal. “I’m a very independent decision maker. Like the past elections, I’m not taking any special interest money, I have publicly declared and declaring again, I do not want any independent expenditure on behalf.”