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Santa Clara City Desk: Sept. 27, 2012

Candidates Forum Holds Few Surprises

Last week’s City Council Candidates Forum, presented by the League of Women Voters, was eminently predictable – reliably centrist, un-ideological and pragmatic. The evening’s only surprises were the political debut of Northsider Bill Collins and a breath-takingly tactless mis-step by candidate John Mlnarik. Candidate Alma Jimenez wasn’t present, reportedly called away for an out-of-state family crisis.

Everyone agreed that there will be changes in pensions. It’s also highly likely the city will take a hard look at pay scales, judging from comments Tuesday night. “We are in a new [economic] reality,” was how candidate Mohammed Nadeem put it. “We need to have a solution before the system becomes unsustainable,” said Teresa O’Neill.

Everyone paid lip service in one way or another to recreating Santa Clara’s downtown in the historic Old Quad. “The old quad has great synergy with Santa Clara University,” said Mlnarik.

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At the same time, the reality is, with two of the parcels making up the prospective downtown under land leases until 2023, not much is likely to happen soon. That puts the focus on development on the Northside entertainment district. Thus, Nadeem puts his focus on the stadium area.

Debi Davis and O’Neill split the difference. “Mixed use in the Old Quad and on the Northside, entertainment,” was Davis’ vote. “I don’t think we should be looking at one downtown,” said O’Neill. Instead, the city needs “a series of gathering places [and a] sense of shared experiences.”

The forum was also the debut of a new personality on the city scene – Collins, also the sole Northside resident on the dais last week. “Surprise of the night,” is what Eyes of Santa Clara blogger James Rowen called him. On several points Collins offered a contrarian POV – if nothing else, reminding listeners that just because things have “always been done” a certain way, it’s not necessarily a mandate for the future.

Collins was the sole proponent of geographic voting districts for the city, noting, “I’m the only one from the 95054 zip code. And the issues for us are different.” He also came forward with the – heretical for Santa Clara – suggestion that the city be run by a strong elected mayor rather than a City Manager. Collins was also the only candidate who opposes a ban on plastic bags, and questioned whether the city can afford the operating costs of a new library.

If Collins served up the surprise of the evening, Mlnarik offered the fumble.

After stating that he had no potential conflicts of interest, he was asked by O’Neill if the fact that his wife’s employer, Devcon – a partner in the stadium development project – wasn’t a conflict of interest. Mlnarik replied that his wife wasn’t an employee of the stadium contractor, Turner-Devcon. (Many thought this a distinction without a difference – “artisan pizza instead of pizza” is how one listener described it).

The question is of more-than-normal importance to Mlnarik’s potential service on the City Council for this reason: If his wife’s job presents a conflict of interest, it would potentially bar him from voting on any contract or other issue concerning what is the largest single development project in the history of the city.

Mlnarik followed up his explanation with a challenge for O’Neill: That, “as an unmarried woman” she had not listed in her statement of economic interests any relationship she might have “with a domestic partner” employed by the city.

This drew audible gasps from the audience, because it’s pretty well-known that O’Neill lives alone. Over the years she has sponsored several refugee students for citizenship and has several pet cats. No who knows her, however, would describe these as “domestic partners.”

The forum can be viewed online at /santaclaraca.gov/index.aspx?page=1504.

Candidates Forum Holds Few Surprises

Candidates for Santa Clara City Offices

Seat 6 (appointed by Council in 2010)
Lisa Gillmor

Seat 3 (termed out by Will Kennedy)
Mohammed Nadeem
Debi Davis

Seat 7 (termed out by Jamie McLeod)
Teresa O’Neill
John Mlnarik
Bill Collins

Seat 4 (termed out by Kevin Moore)
Jerry Marsalli
Alma Jimenez

Police Chief
Mike Sellars

City Clerk
Rod Diridon, Jr.

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