Editor’s Note: This forum happened on Sept. 29, prior to the release of a Grand Jury report on the relationship between some City leaders and the 49ers. As such, the questions and answers to and from both candidates may differ today than what was said on Sept. 29.
The forum for the candidates in Santa Clara’s District 3 had a different feel than the other ones hosted on Sept. 29 by the League of Women Voters San Jose/Santa Clara. Challenger Christian Pellecchia had an unavoidable work conflict and was out of town so he called into the forum. Incumbent Karen Hardy was the only one to occupy the City Council dais with the moderator.
District 3 Forum Opening Statements
To open things off, Hardy highlighted her long standing in the Santa Clara community and her love for District 3.
“Four years ago, I was elected as the first ever representative for District 3. It is an honor and responsibility that I take very seriously. I’ve lived here in the city since 1985. I’ve lived in the area which is now District 3 since 1989,” said Hardy. “I’ve been teaching at Wilcox High School for the last 16 years. I started teaching math and I started the computer science program. I am now in charge of that and teaching just computer science. I love Santa Clara. It is very important to me. And I’ve loved serving it and I would love to continue.”
A new resident of Santa Clara, Pellecchia used the time to apologize for not being able to appear in person and introduce himself to voters.
“I’m Vice President of a small/medium-sized construction company located in Santa Clara. I’m also a part time adjunct professor. I’m currently teaching a workforce development program at the Santa Clara Adult School where I help train and find high paying jobs for local residents,” said Pellecchia. “Not only do I live, work and teach in Santa Clara but I invest a lot of my time giving back to the community. I’ve served as chairman of the board of the Chamber of Commerce helping small businesses. I currently serve on the Mission City Community Fund, helping our local nonprofits. And I serve on the Santa Clara Police Athletic League…I’m running for the City Council because I love the City, and I have the experience and expertise to help guide the City to become a place we all deserve.”
Goals for the Next Four Years
In terms of what they would like to see happen in Santa Clara over the next four years, the candidates had different outlooks.
Pellecchia wants to focus on public safety and fully funding the police and fire departments as well as reinvesting in the swim center and local parks. He’s also focused on the economy and bringing “dignity” back to the City Council.
“I would like to attract businesses to invest in our City, to come to our City and help create jobs, thereby stimulating our economy…I would like to restore our downtown. I think that would also be a great job creator and stimulate our economy,” said Pellecchia. “And last but not least, I would also like to bring some dignity and respect back to our City Council.”
Hardy also talked about parks and said she was an integral part of building Machado Park. However, she said the budget will limit what can and cannot be done in the next few years.
“I care very much about public spaces. But the reality is, we’re in a deficit, and we need to stop the bleeding. That’s part of what we’ve been working on is stopping the bleeding,” said Hardy.
She also hopes to focus on making Santa Clara more bicycle and pedestrian friendly and the current drought.
“I serve on three local and regional water boards because water is really important,” said Hardy. “We also need to make certain we use it correctly and we’re able to reuse it because we have the technology. I want to make certain that happens.”
If allowed to only accomplish one thing in her term, Hardy said she would focus on water.
“We have the technology to turn around and reuse our water,” said Hardy. “If I could do anything, if I could wave my magic wand, that’s what I would do is have a water treatment plant where we purified as much water as possible. And we’re able to recharge our underground aquifers and not be so dependent on rainfall and snowfall in the Sierras.”
Pellecchia said he would like to increase Santa Clara’s regard within the Bay Area.
“It has to be to bring dignity and respect back to the city council,” said Pellecchia. “We are not spoken about in high regard all throughout this Valley. We’re in the Chronicle, we’re in so many newspapers, it’s embarrassing. People don’t want to visit a city that’s that dysfunctional. Businesses don’t want to invest in a city that’s that dysfunctional.”
In terms of the $27 million budget deficit the City of Santa Clara is currently facing. Both candidates pointed to different causes and different ways to get out of the mess.
“The first thing we need to do is stop the bleeding. The reality is most cities around here spend 70% of their budget on their employees, benefits and salaries, we spend 78%. That tells me that we’re out of step with what we should be doing,” said Hardy.
She believes large concerts at Levi’s Stadium will help increase the City’s bottom line, but so will good decision making.
“The reality is, we need to be more careful with our decisions,” continued Hardy. “My mom made me learn a very important phrase I’ll share with all of you: ‘Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.’ That’s the way I handle things and that’s why I want to continue to work with the City.”
Pellecchia believes new development will solve the problem.
“I would like to state that Santa Clara has some of the most amazing and state of the art developments coming in the next few years. We are the envy of all the cities around us,” said Pellecchia. “These projects are going to produce millions of square feet of new retail and office space, including the data centers, all of which bring in new revenue such as sales tax and property tax to our City. Plus, these projects are going to help make Santa Clara a destination spot. Our future looks bright.”
He said while previous City Councils were smart enough to build up reserves to get us through the pandemic, the current City Council made an egregious error when it voted to settle a lawsuit with the 49ers.
“The lawsuit would have surely covered our deficit in its entirety,” said Pellecchia.
49ers Involvement in Santa Clara
No matter who is elected to represent District 3, they will have to deal with the 49ers. Both candidates were asked how they would maintain a good relationship with the team moving forward.
“I want nothing more than a good relationship with the 49ers. I was not born wealthy. I was not born in a successful family. I built my success based on relationships. And I just want nothing but a good, healthy relationship with the 49ers,” said Pellecchia.
“I want that stadium to make a fortune. I want it to bring tourists and outsiders of the area to come into Santa Clara. Dine at our restaurants, stay in our hotels,” continued Pellecchia. “I want nothing but as many events as possible for as long as possible inside that stadium, so long as the residents agree to it.”
For her part, Hardy pointed out that while she did not want the stadium and she campaigned hard against it, she knows you have to make do with what you have.
“The problem is, I lost that fight. We have a stadium and we have a reality. Because of that reality, I have to make it work and we have to recognize that you have to talk with people and make things work,” continued Hardy. “You cannot have a toxic relationship and have things be positive. So, when the 49ers contacted me after I was elected, I said, ‘I won’t even talk to you until I have been sworn in.’ I met with them only when our own City staff wouldn’t. And I was the one who wrote the resolution that the council passed to get us FIFA and we will have FIFA here in 2026.”
Santa Clara City Council Divisiveness
Using the word “acrimonious” to describe the recent mood around the City Council, the moderator asked both candidates what they would do to improve the relationship within the council and with the public.
“I talk to anyone who will call me and discuss things. I am not really interested in people who just call names or make accusations that they have no basis for. That’s not helpful and that doesn’t move things along,” said Hardy. “The reality is we all live here together. We can disagree on things, but we don’t have to be disagreeable. That’s what’s sad. It’s sad to me when I see people be so nasty and accused of all sorts of things without any basis. That’s not helpful. Council members can get along or not get along, we’re going to disagree on issues, but you do not have to be rude. You do not have to be unkind. And it’s been very sad to see some council members that won’t even acknowledge other council members’ existence. I don’t do that.”
Pellecchia says through his work as a developer he has frequently visited city councils and Santa Clara is not viewed kindly in other parts of the Bay Area.
“We are surely the laughingstock of the Silicon Valley. The current City Council is extremely dysfunctional and it’s the main reason why I’m running,” said Pellecchia. “I’m not a politician. I have a pretty good life. This is seriously going to impact my lifestyle. But I’m doing it because I feel obligated. I want to bring dignity and respect back to the city council.
“I want our city council meetings to be efficient,” continued Pellecchia. “No more grandstanding. You’ll never see that from me. No long speeches, I want to be on city council to vote. I just want the issues to come up and I want to vote and, and just not be as dysfunctional as we have been.”
The push to revitalize downtown Santa Clara is another issue facing the next City Council. Pellecchia says it makes sense to have a downtown near Santa Clara University.
“It’s an area that we could make more lively. It also fits with a college atmosphere that’s over there. I think the poor students really have no place to go. They don’t get the full college experience. So, to have a downtown adjacent to the college is just ideal when you have a massive amount of customers ready to spend their disposable income,” said Pellecchia. “Then that, in conjunction with what we’re calling uptown, the Related, those will be major focuses of mine, for as long as I’m a city council member.”
Hardy pointed to her previous service on the Historic Landmarks Commission and Planning Commission and her experience on the City Council so far as reasons why she will help anyway she can in the revival of the downtown area.
“The reality is we took it down. That was very dumb. No one says it was a good decision. But how to build it back up is the struggle,” said Hardy. “I was very happy and worked with the local citizen’s group. Because, with that being a citizens group, they keep it at the forefront. They stick to those issues.”
Hardy pointed out that it’s not the City’s place to create the development, but rather to create the policy that ushers in that development.
It was a point she reiterated on the issue of affordable housing.
“But remember, we don’t build the housing, we allow and it’s our policy. So, it’s our policy that moves those projects forward,” said Hardy. “That’s what I’ve been working on and we are we’re starting to pick up steam which is what we need to do.”
Pellecchia said as a developer, he can work with developers to maximize affordable housing units, especially in an expensive state like California. He also called out the City Council for its recent delay of the Civic Center Drive project.
“I’m a little confused by the council’s recent decision to stall the Civic Center Drive project. That’s a little bit concerning, I’d like to wrap my head around that,” said Pellecchia.
Hardy used her rebuttal to respond.
“I was one of the council members that voted against the continuation because I wanted to hear the Civic Center Drive,” said Hardy. “That was a four to three vote and I was one of the ones that said, let’s go ahead.”
City Parks & Library Hours
On the issue of City services like parks and libraries, Hardy again pointed to the budget deficit as a hindrance and said Measure H, the business tax license measure on the ballot, would help the City increase revenue.
“One of the reasons we need to pass Measure H, which is the business tax license, is because we are in a budget struggle,” said Hardy. “We have limited hours [at] the library, we have limited some of the senior center hours and we want to expand that. One of the ways we can do that is the business license tax has not been updated for 30 years.”
Pellecchia isn’t a fan of tax increases.
“I believe that we need to be a little bit more careful with our taxes,” said Pellecchia. “Not only is California one of the most expensive places to build, it’s also one of the most expensive places to live and to conduct your business. It’s unfair to burden businesses with a tax to get us out of our deficit and to help fund some of these amazing programs.”
Pellecchia said increasing the business tax will drive businesses out of the City and discourage others from moving in. He said his work with nonprofits and businesses will help him balance the City’s budget.
District 3 Forum: City Manager Search
Santa Clara still needs to hire a new City Manager. Pellecchia agreed that the next City Manager’s salary would not be as high but said he never would have fired the last one.
“For people that claim that they are fiscally responsible, what was done to our city manager and city attorney was outrageous,” said Pellecchia. “We are still paying our city manager that exorbitant amount of money while we’re paying our current city manager as well. So, for a city deficit, that was terrible planning. I wouldn’t have done that.
“Then we fire our lawyer as well who was dealing with multiple lawsuits, most from the 49ers and we’re paying another law firm entity three times as much as we were paying our last city lawyer,” continued Pellecchia.
Since she attended closed session meetings on the matter, Hardy was limited to what she could say since much of the issue was discussed in closed session meetings. She did say that she inherited the contract for the City Manager and that it included a year’s severance so she didn’t have any control over that.
As for what she’d like to see in the future, someone who can work with people.
“It is very important that we have a good city manager who can handle the finances and just looking at the salary only is not what you want,” said Hardy. “You want to look at the realities of the person, how they work with others, and you want to look at how they manage the day to day and the people. That’s what’s important. That’s what we’re looking for.”