A public comments section Tuesday night erupted into several people calling for a public apology and demanding the Council reprimand one of its members because she silenced an Asian American Council Member at last week’s #StopAsianHate rally.
Council Member Kathy Watanabe organized the rally March 31, but refused to let Council Member Kevin Park, a Korean American, speak at the event. When he asked to speak, Watanabe told Park “No, no. This is my event.”
The snub was a particularly bad look for Watanabe, who got an earful at Tuesday night’s meeting, with many members of the public imploring the Council to condemn her.
One member of the public, Micheal Tsai, said he had previously supported Watanabe, but her action at the rally has made him reconsider that stance. Her behavior, he said, confirms what many Asian Americans already feel.
“When we try to speak up, a lot of time we get marginalized. A lot of times, the political establishment attempts to put us in our place,” Tsai said. “If someone is going to claim [Asian American and Pacific Islander] allyship, they should not be silencing [Asian American and Pacific Islander] voices.”
Watanabe, the wife of a Chinese-Japanese man, organized the event after hearing the story of a 12-year-old girl who claimed to have been called a racial slur. Nearly a dozen speakers, many of whom were Asian American, spoke at the event.
She said she meant no “ill will” but there was insufficient time to accommodate Park’s request to speak because it came at the last minute. Since the rally was not a city-sponsored event, Watanabe said she wanted to respect the time constraints on the permit the City issued her.
Park said Watanabe “abused” him and “acted like a child.” However, Park conceded that he never expected to be able to speak since Watanabe has repeatedly rebuffed his attempts to be cordial. He seemed to indicate that he suspects Watanabe’s reasoning was not racially motivated but based on a political grudge.
Council Member Anthony Becker, who also attended the rally, said he too suspected the snub was more personal but that he wishes Watanabe would just admit that rather than offer a “weak apology.”
“If it is not about hate or race or anything or anything like that, it must be about politics,” Becker said. “Just because we disagree, doesn’t mean we can treat each other with disrespect.”
Although it seemed to be personal, what was so disheartening, Park said, was that it was a “terrible look,” especially since she only “apologized” after she came under heavy public fire and even then, essentially blamed Park for her screw-up, saying he didn’t RSVP and requested to speak in the eleventh hour.
Watanabe said Park’s voice would have “truly made the event better,” but her apology rang hollow to many, including other Council Members. Later she iterated the type of victim-blaming apology to which Park referred, saying “I am sorry you’re offended.”
While Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Watanabe’s only remaining political ally on the Council, defended Watanabe, saying she “doesn’t have a mean bone in [her] body,” that the situation was “unfortunate” and “unfair,” others were also skeptical about the earnestness of Watanabe’s apology.
Council Member Raj Chahal said he has gotten a similarly icy reception from Watanabe since elected, saying he “doesn’t buy” her apology. Council Member Karen Hardy said she has witnessed Watanabe’s standoffishness toward both Park and Chahal.
Only one member of the public defended Watanabe. Kirk Vartan — a San Jose resident and Santa Clara business owner who has seen several pet projects such as the agrihood and worker co-op approved by Watanabe and the Council — supported Watanabe, vouching for her character.
Downtown Precise Plan Nearing Conclusion
The Council also directed City employees to find money for the Downtown Precise Plan.
The Downtown Community Task Force also spoke to the Council Tuesday night, asking for $26,500 to finish the final steps of the plan.
Adam Thompson, Chair of the Downtown Community Task Force, told the Council that one of the biggest things needed is a form-based code, a regulatory scaffolding that ensures predictable development.
“Our goal is not only to create the best downtown possible, but also to create a place that has a good grouping of dining, shopping, arts, culture, recreation, and allow the community to interact and enjoy one another. A place that grows and that will reflect the community,” he said.
Deborah Bress, a Council mainstay, said she was “thrilled” at the prospect of revitalizing Santa Clara’s downtown. She said the City could cut some “dead weight” from its budget to fund the effort.
The task force has already hired an urban planner, done community outreach and visited several other California downtowns to get a sense of feasibility, parking and height densities.
“The community has a very strong vision for what they want these 10 blocks to be, and they have waited long enough to see it,” Thompson said. “We have a lot of hurdles this project is going to have to overcome to be successful.
Santana said she would return to the Council with a funding source, most likely the City’s budget stabilization reserve, sometime in late May.
Silicon Valley Power to Get New Turbines, Council Continuances
The Council also approved spending $30 million on three gas turbines for Silicon Valley Power (SVP). Manuel Pineda, Chief Electric Utility Officer, told the Council that the turbines — purchased from General Electric and TransCanada — are an “important component” to the continued success of SVP.
Although he said the bonds for the plant go through 2031/32, he expected the plant’s life to extend beyond that provided it is regularly maintained. Securing the turbines will go a long way toward that goal, he said.
Also related to SVP, the Council continued hearing its quarterly strategic report to its next meeting along with discussion on the sale of the Loyalton Ranch property, which had already been continued from its March 23 meeting.
Consent Calendar Spending
The Council spent the following money via the consent calendar:
- $4.5 million for a five-year contract with Milton Security Group for IT Support
- $224,000 for a design services agreement with Studio G Architects, Inc. for the utilities corporation yard field services center building renovation project
- $136,390 to Plump Engineering, Inc. for the Bowers Park building and Sarah Fox mausoleum roof rehabilitation project
- A five-year $5 million contract with Flynn Resource Consultants, Inc. for as-needed transmission system analysis, and related engineering consultant services.
- $1.38 million for the purchase of Microsoft Office 365 and related enterprise licenses for three years
- A five-year $3.18 million agreement with Energy Project Solutions for gas pipeline compliance, inspection, maintenance, and repair.
- A two-year purchase Order with Bear Electrical Solutions, Inc. for traffic signal maintenance, repair, and support services, $1.55 million
- A one-year $60,000 purchase order with Quality Traffic Data for traffic data collection services, and a one-year purchase order with Traffic Data Service for traffic data collection services, for $60,000
- $6.84 million contract with O’Grady Paving, Inc. for street maintenance
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, April 13 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
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