After two hours of testimony from 10 Planning Commissioner candidates, the Santa Clara City Council will wait until later this month to decide on who will fill the vacancy.
The interviews, held Tuesday night during a special meeting, became necessary after Commissioner Brandon Reinhardt resigned in February, citing the rising cost of rent as a major contributor to his decision to move his family to the Sacramento area.
The Council will select the City’s newest planning commissioner at its April 24 meeting after a split vote made possible because of Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s absence. Originally, each Council Member was to receive two votes—just as it did last year when it appointed Lance Saleme—but, because of the amount of candidates, Council Member Patricia Mahan moved that each Council Member receive three votes. The motion passed unanimously.
During the first round of voting, each Council Member got three votes. After the first round, candidate Jeremy Hicks, an engineer with Intel, got four votes, and three candidates—Kevin Park, Martin Schulter and Anthony Becker—each got three votes. Then, the Council got a lone vote to determine which of the three-vote candidates would go against Hicks. After votes from Mahan and Council Members Teresa O’Neill and Dominic Caserta propelled Becker into the final round, the Council was divided when Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe and Council Members Debi Davis and Pat Kolstad voted for Hicks.
It was under the Council’s purview to appoint top vote-getter Hicks, but after another motion by Mahan the Council opted to conduct a run-off vote. Davis and Watanabe voted “no” on that motion. At one point the Council Members themselves seemed confused about the proceedings, prompting Davis to remark in frustration, “you just waxed my butt.”
Three of the candidates are no stranger to vying for government jobs. Park, a software engineer, ran for City Council in 2016 in an attempt to unseat incumbent O’Neill. Becker, a production floor manager/cinematographer for CreaTV in San Jose, tried to unseat Watanabe in the same election. Schulter, a retired San Jose State University administrator, also sought appointment to the Planning Commission last year but lost out to Saleme.
Becker and Hicks are both in their early 30s. Both said it is important the Planning Commission reflect the changing sensibilities within Santa Clara surrounding the housing crisis.
“We need a new direction and the perspective of a millennial,” Becker said. “This City needs a new vision and a new perspective.”
The interviews were conducted with a 3-minute opening statement, a question-and-answer session from the Council and a 1-minute closing statement. The Council Members more or less asked the same questions of every candidate.
Mahan asked each candidate whether they would adhere to historic and design guidelines even when employees in the planning department are recommending something to the contrary. Both Hicks and Becker said they would adhere to those guidelines. Becker said it was his “No. 1 priority.”
While Hicks said he is not looking to “make waves,” he added that “it is not my role … to impose my will” in such matters.
Davis inquired how candidates would handle a loss of local control with the proposal of Senate Bill 827, saying it would “displace low-income families.”
The bill, proposed by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), would mandate approval on housing projects within a half-mile of transit hubs, trumping local restrictions on parking, building height and density.
Meanwhile, Caserta asked Becker and Hicks where they would like to see more housing.
Becker said, although he originally opposed the idea, the Moonlite Shopping Center would be a prime location. Ideally, Hicks said, the City should look to convert much of the unused commercial space to housing.
Because of Gillmor’s absence, O’Neill moved that the Council deferred selecting a new commissioner until its next meeting, calling the situation “unusual.” The motion passed unanimously. The Council will meet again at 7 p.m. on April 24 in the Council Chambers at 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.