The Santa Clara City Council will consider reprimanding the mayor and her only political ally for preventing the Council’s first Asian American from speaking at a rally opposing Asian hate.
At its Tuesday night meeting, the Council opted to put admonishing Mayor Lisa Gillmor and censuring Council Member Kathy Watanabe on a future agenda. The petition, brought by Council Member Karen Hardy, was in response to Watanabe’s refusal to let Council Member Kevin Park speak at the Stop Asian Hate rally back in March.
Although Park said he never expected to be given a chance to speak, Watanabe’s response when he asked ignited a firestorm of criticism that culminated earlier this month at another Council meeting. When Park asked to speak, Watanabe told him “this is my event.”
Watanabe attempted to excuse her refusal by saying that Park did not make it known he would attend and there was not enough time remaining at the rally to accommodate his request. Many saw Watanabe’s subsequent apology as hollow, with some even going so far as to call it “victim-blaming.”
Adding to the chorus of criticism, many also called it “gaslighting” on Tuesday. Hardy’s petition included Gillmor because “at no time did Mayor Lisa Gillmor condemn the conduct of Council Member Kathy Watanabe;” instead, she echoed Watanabe’s excuses.
Hardy called the behavior “abhorrent,” adding that it violates the code of ethics by which each Council Member promises to abide.
Council Member Suds Jain pointed to the Council’s first admonishments of former Council Members Pat Kolstad and Patricia Mahan in August 2018 as “setting the bar.” However, Watanabe claimed her situation to be different since she has repeatedly apologized and “taken responsibility” for the hurt she caused.
While admonishment and censure are essentially a slap on the wrist, the item received much attention with more than 20 public members commenting, with only a couple more proponents than opponents. Still, Hardy cited a letter with 57 signatories calling for the censure as the impetus for the petition.
Those supporting the petition said Gillmor and Watanabe began backpedaling, trying to put the incident behind them by frequently pleading with everyone to “move forward” and “heal.”
“Saying ‘it’s my event’ sounds like a fourth-grader stomping his feet and throwing a hissy fit,” said Deborah Bress, a Council mainstay. “You opened the can of worms; you can’t just now say ‘oh let’s forget it’ now that your hand has been caught in the cookie jar and you’re under the flaming heat. Let the heat continue.”
Harbir Bhatia, who vied for Watanabe’s Council seat in the last election, called Watanabe’s blaming Park for her failure “gaslighting,” adding that “this is exactly what a perpetrator and abuser is.” She said Gillmor and Watanabe’s tactics are about power, not race.
Another opponent, who listed his name only as Charanjit, agreed with Bhatia, calling Gillmor’s reign as mayor “dictatorial.” He added that she has appointed “friends” to cushy government jobs that command “ridiculous salaries” meanwhile she and Watanabe shut down discourse.
“They stifle discussion. They do not allow people from different views to theirs to express them,” he said. “These shenanigans need to end.”
Still, others came to Gillmor and Watanabe’s defense.
Benjamin Cooley told the Council that discussing such a topic was “insulting” and a “waste of time” because it has more important priorities.
Camela Algieri inverted Bhatia’s criticism of Watanabe, saying Park is “manipulating” her and is “being abusive by pretending to be a leader.”
Another opponent of the reprimanding, Kirk Vartan, a San Jose resident, said the situation has been “blown out of proportion.” He said he understood why Watanabe would refuse Park’s request to speak since he has a penchant for the dramatic and likes attention. He called Park a “disrupter.”
Both motions — to admonish Gillmor and censure Watanabe — passed 4-3, with Gillmor and Watanabe voting “no” on both, Jain voting “no” on Watanabe’s censure and Becker voting “no” on Gillmor’s admonishment.
District Ballot Measure Gets Go-Ahead
The Council also approved putting a measure on the ballot that would cement the six districts in Santa Clara, as required by the settlement for the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit. The Council opted to also add a 30-day residency requirement to the ballot.
Additionally, the Council continued the discussion on the redistricting of the City based on the 2020 Census to either the May 25 or June 4 meeting.
Maintenance District Change
The Council also agreed to renegotiate the amount paid for the Franklin Mall maintenance district. Because her office is located in the district, Gillmor recused herself from the discussion.
Jain originally wanted to dissolve the district, but Craig Mobeck, Director of Public Works, told him the City would be unable to collect the $14,200 it collects annually to contribute toward the maintenance of the City-owned property.
While the Council opted to collect the money, Jain embedded into the motion that the Council reserve the right to dissolve the district should re-negotiating the amount downtown businesses pay not be amenable to the Council. Jain was insistent that the current agreement is unfavorable to the City.
“The City just has no say. The City is over a barrel,” Jain said. “We have this very one-sided maintenance district.”
For a fifth time, the Council deferred discussion of the sale of its Loyalton Ranch property to its next meeting.
Consent Calendar Spending
When approving the consent calendar, the Council approved a 2-year, $461,564 contract with AECOM Technical Services, Inc. for renewable energy microgrid feasibility study and design services.
The next regularly scheduled Council meeting is Tuesday, May 25 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara. The Santa Clara Stadium Authority Board meets May 11 in the same location.
Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov