Santa Clara takes one Step forward to only take two Steps Backwards – Letter to the Editor

With the current work of the Charter Review Committee, I feel they are not only backtracking but wasting time, money, and resources while ultimately there is an obvious agenda behind it. It is ignoring the CVRA lawsuit remedy issued by Judge Thomas Kuhnle in July 2018. All this after a 7-year warning to adapt until the judge stepped in.

With the recent meeting, the committee voted 5-2 to adopt a 3-district ballot measure in which in the 3 districts will elect 2 council members each. This is going in reverse from the Judge’s ruling last July with 6 single member districts.

But first, let’s jump back to last year in 2018 with Santa Clara’s Measure A which was to split Santa Clara into two districts with 3 council members each (It also introduced rank choice voting). Voters rejected it and it was funded by outside interests from Texas and lobbyist Jude Barry. That measure was to find a remedy that would suit the agenda of the council and ultimately the power of the cities figurehead. She didn’t want to lose power or council votes then, nor does she now. Her ego and actions as well as the majority on the dais ignore the will of the people.

Today in 2019 this agenda continues and here we are practicing retrogression to go backward from progress. It begins to bring into question the validity of this committee and whether it is racially motivated. This action I feel also puts the validity of recently elected council members Hardy and Chahal in jeopardy as if their victories didn’t count. This is very concerning and ultimately disturbing that there are forces at work to change the narrative, the process and ignore the rule of law.

The city posted a survey to get the pulse of what residents want. Yet following the survey the committee was not taking into consideration.  It begs to ask, what is even point of the survey if you are going to go against the grain and the wishes of the people.  With 66% (majority) residents were in favor of a 6-district model. It now calls into question the ethics and integrity of those serving on the committee (minus the two dissenting votes).  It is about compliance, and this compliance is failing. It reminds me of the public records requests and the Grand Jury’s findings…. Santa Clara just has a hard time complying with the law. Most say it’s because we are a Charter City and we can make the rules, but I find that excuse carries little to no weight.

I could recall our current city clerk and a few other elected officials in 2016 and 2017 said that our charter does not allow districts and we have the right to make our own laws, plus the fact that our city is too small for districts. Well to be blunt….. they are wrong.

Yes, we are a charter city and can make our laws…. Our charter is our cities “constitution” and can be amended.  But according to the state laws….  While it gives our city control over our municipal affairs, any charter city is subjected to abide same state laws as a General Law city on matters that are considered to be of “statewide concern” and voter repression or lack of representation is that ‘STATEWIDE CONCERN”. The CVRA is a statewide concern that over time was once deemed a municipal issue that can now be a grave concern for the entire states electorate. Essentially any local charter provision or ordinance will become preempted by the subsequent state legislation or state law.

This now brings to mind examples of other charter cities like ours and other cities that have similar populations. The CVRA lawsuit is creating Statewide changes to cities electoral processes in providing direct democracy.

For my first example, I will use the central valley city of Los Banos, Ca in which I grew up from ages 7-18 years old before I came back to Santa Clara the city of my birth. Los Banos is a general law city different from ours.  Yet, its population is 39,180 and has a total of 4 districts and directly elected mayor. They converted to districts to avoid a CVRA lawsuit and because of those actions Los Banos for the first time saw a huge change in the makeup of their city council. They elected young people, minorities and those of different classes. It changed the original status quo… away from the elite good ole boys club. This was a huge victory for Los Banos’ future of development from housing to jobs. http://www.losbanos.org/city-government/mayor-city-council-members/

My next example will be a charter city like ours. Redwood City was facing a similar situation with CVRA, as most cities in the region were seeing the fallout from Santa Clara’s lawsuit and how costly it is to taxpayers. Redwood City’s population is below ours at 86,685 residents. The city opted to convert to 7 districts. Their city is drastically smaller than ours but is able to provide direct democracy through 7 individual single member districts. The word is they are in process to amend charter for how they elect officials based on district from at-large.

https://padailypost.com/2019/05/09/redwood-city-settles-on-map-for-council-districts/

Morgan Hill another city smaller than Santa Clara with a population of 45,037 has opted to go to 4 single member districts using letters instead of numbers (A, B, C, D) https://www.morgan-hill.ca.gov/1682/City-Council-Districts. Menlo Park, another smaller city (34,357 residents) has adapted to district elections. While lastly our neighbor Sunnyvale (153,656 residents) who is just slightly bigger than Santa Clara is moving forward with 6 single member districts to prevent further CVRA litigation. The writing is on the wall, smaller cities are adapting, larger cities are adapting but Santa Clara feels like they are going back to the stone age.

All of these cities are adapting and opting for districts to prevent getting sued or creating unnecessary burdens on our taxpayers to pay out plaintiffs.  Santa Clara does not seem to learn from history. In the 1980’s after a date with the 9th circuit court of appeals, the City of Watsonville moved from at-large elections to district elections when the courts determined the at-large elections were illegal under the FEDERAL VOTING RIGHTS ACT and didn’t give the Latino population a fair shot. City Attorney Doyle is flat out wrong if he thinks the federal voting rights act does not apply in our situation because it does. This trend continued with cities Modesto and Palmdale which resulted in going to individual districts while settling with the plaintiffs at a hefty cost to taxpayers. Currently, Palmdale is the most expensive CVRA lawsuit in its history, but Santa Clara is on track to pass that milestone with its current appeal. So far Santa Clara taxpayers are on the hook to pay plaintiffs $3.14 million dollars…. and that excludes legal fees. Millions of dollars being spent because those are afraid to lose their power. The power worship blurs political judgment and leads to the belief that the present trend will continue.

What the committee majority, the mayor, the city attorney, and the city clerk continue to ignore is the positives of a 6 single member district election system.  Just years ago, the Mayor and current City Clerk spoke of the effects of dark money in which an ordinance was passed the first in the nation. The “dark money ordinance” was created because of blu-pac organization in 2016 elections was outed as a front for dark money in elections. To this day there is no proof or resolve on what blu-pac was. I am still waiting for answers with no resolve. The ordinance was hypocritical and flawed. In 2016 and 2018 elections dark money or gray money was used to elect a slew of candidates. Developer money was being funneled through the Police and Firefighter unions promoting a silent agenda and practically buying council seats. Luckily in 2018, two councilmembers were elected based on grassroots and non-corporate special interests funding.

If the Mayor and Co. are worried about dark money in elections…. if they are worried about the influence of the 49ers in elections or fronts like blu-pac…. district elections are the answer, and the only answer. 6 single member districts prevent clusters in which nearly all councilmembers live in close proximity with each other. This was the case before the judge intervened and installed districts, yet prior to his verdict and remedy councilmembers Gillmor, O’Neil, Davis, Mahan, Caserta, and Kolstad all lived close to each other. (Note Castera and Kolstad are former councilmembers as of last year). In 2016 the appointment and eventual election of Kathy Watanabe put for the first time a councilmember outside of the main cluster, this was a positive in the right direction. Yes, she beat me in the election by a large margin, but with the implementation of the 6 districts last year, Mrs. Watanabe essentially was the easiest district to be made since her neighborhood was not only underrepresented but never represented.  Other cities like Gilroy, Morgan Hill and even the southern California city of Anaheim had the issues with their councilmembers that were elected being clustered together in close proximity. It is just more proof for the City of Santa Clara that demographics are changing and are in need of new voices and diversity rather than retreads and repeat episodes of yesterday’s legislators.

This committee is wasting time and money for a ballot measure that could fail and at same time be rejected if the city loses the lawsuit appeal… which more than likely it would. No city in the history of the CVRA has won an appeal, and Santa Clara doesn’t look like it will. So, I don’t understand why they don’t have the 6-district option and are favoring the 3-district model.  If it all ends up failing, they essentially wasted everyone’s time going against the wishes of the people and the orders of the judge.  When we reach that point after losing the appeal which will happen…… it leaves Santa Clara still having to amend the charter for 6 single member districts. Does that mean another Charter Review? What are they thinking???

Santa Clara can provide more legitimate democracy and hope with adapting to 6. Campaigns are cheaper, more effective and you get to personally know your elected leader.  Councilmembers can give more time to their district/neighborhood while overall making decisions for the city as a whole.

In closing, I would love for the city attorney, the city clerk and the 5-vote majority on the committee to explain to me and the voters how 3 districts benefits Santa Clarans while smaller cities or cities of equal size adapt to 4 or more single member districts. I challenge them to prove to me and the voters how smaller cities can adapt, and we can’t. I have noticed it is “we are too small”, or “we have the rights to decide our charter and voting methods”.  This rhetoric is not valid excuses…… it is just a deflection and political spin tactic.

So, when the city attorney and city clerk give bad advice and refuse to listen to surveys or the people while making up every excuse in the book…… forgive my French, but I call bull****.