The candidates for two of the open seats on Santa Clara’s City Council squared off on Monday night. District 5 candidates Suds Jain and Bob O’Keefe took part in the first of two candidate forums hosted by the League of Women Voters of San Jose/Santa Clara. The three District 6 candidates, Gautam “Gary” Barve, Anthony J. Becker and Robert L. Mezzetti, participated in the second forum of the night.
Candidates Jain and O’Keefe dealt with several citywide issues.
Both candidates believe that developments near transit hubs are good ways to increase affordable housing in Santa Clara. However, O’Keefe believes that high density housing should only be placed near transit hubs and not along transit corridors or in R1 zones. Jain believes that El Camino Real, with its access to the express 522 bus, is another place for high density and affordable housing.
Both Jain and O’Keefe see Levi’s Stadium as a way to increase city revenue lost due to COVID-19, but in different ways.
“I’m in favor of taking advantage of the Levi’s Stadium,” said Jain. “I think that we’ve been losing money by not having concerts there. So, I’d be interested in relaxing, the curfew up there.”
“We need to get Levi’s Stadium management in line. The whole management,” said O’Keefe. “We’re losing millions of dollars every year. So, we need to take over management of that stadium and get the proper money coming into the city.”
Both candidates believe Measure E, a proposed 4 percent increase on the city’s transient occupancy tax, would bring more revenue into the city. They both support Measure RR, a one-eighth percent sales tax increase for CalTrain. They both think the city can do more to combat climate change and they think Santa Clara needs a Vision Zero plan to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe.
When asked how residents in their district can be assured of an independent voice, the answers differed.
“I ran for City Council in 2016. Back then, I pledged to be a special interest free candidate. I didn’t take a dime, from unions, PACs, corporations, anyone,” said Jain. “I’ve pledged to do the same in this election. I have not taken any money from any special interest.”
“I have high moral and ethical standards, I set them high for myself and I can judge others based on that,” said O’Keefe. “We need to stay away from even the hint of impropriety on this issue. Mr. Jain mentioned the thing about PACs and funds and money. I will let everyone know where my money comes from.”
During closing statements, O’Keefe said Jain would be forced to recuse himself from voting on downtown development and Santa Clara University (SCU) because of conflicts of interest.
Jain said the Fair Political Practices Commission rules say he can vote on downtown development issues. He says his wife will soon retire from SCU, removing that conflict as well.
The candidates in District 6 tackled many of the same issues. All three candidates know the city budget will be a major challenge, but they have different ways of solving the problem.
“Santa Clara is a well-run city. This council over the past several years has put together a reserve fund,” said Mezzetti. “I think those reserve funds are something that are set aside for disasters, I think this certainly qualifies.”
“I would focus on increasing revenues. I think that is the primary way of getting us out of the budget deficit crisis,” said Barve.
“I also feel that we should stop paying a bunch of spin doctors…we’re spending a lot of money on pricy consultants,” said Becker. “I also believe in renegotiating the city manager’s salary because she’s making $709,000 package greater than any other city that I could list right now.”
To increase city revenue Becker and Barve suggested lifting the Levi’s Stadium curfew and removing the cannabis moratorium. Mezzetti pointed out that lifting the curfew is easier said than done. He touted federal grants and said he’s optimistic COVID-19 will be over soon.
On affordable housing, Mezzetti and Becker believe pushing developers for more affordable housing is the way to go. Barve supports affordable housing to a point.
“I will support whatever affordable housing law states…but someone has to make up for the difference,” said Barve. “If someone gives subsidized housing…somebody [else] has to write the check. So, it’s either the business that writes the check, or it’s the remaining 85 percent of the people who are purchasing the apartments that will make up for the difference.”
Both Mezzetti and Becker support Measure E because it will bring more revenue into the city. Barve is against it because he believes it will take away a competitive advantage for local hotels.
Mezzetti and Becker also support Measure RR. Barve is against it.
Mezzetti pushed for more electric vehicles and electric bikes to help combat climate change. Becker agreed and added on to the sentiment.
“I believe that we should remove the moratorium on scooters…I really think that we should have a free electric shuttle… a trolley to connect people to the airport in our downtown,” said Becker. “Create more friendly urban villages. So, a lot of people don’t leave those urban villages to go out on the road. They’re staying within their area to go shopping. To work, play and live in the same spot.”
Barve believes in clean air and clean water, but does not believe in reforms that take away jobs in industries like coal.
Barve and Becker support a citywide Vision Zero plan, while Mezzetti would like to see something a little different.
“I believe in educating the public about what causes some of these accidents. Go out and drive around, whether you’re on a bicycle or in a car, people do not pay attention,” said Mezzetti. “They’re on those damn cell phones. They got the earphones in their ear; they’re listening to music; they’re talking to somebody. That is no way to go through life, when you’re out in public…I think it’s education. I think it’s enforcement.”
Becker used his closing statement to say Mezzetti is a registered lobbyist working with developers. Mezzetti responded by saying he was legal counsel for a developer and he registered as a lobbyist out of “an abundance of caution.”