A new and unregistered political committee calling itself Save Our Santa Clara aims to recall three city council members elected in 2020: two Asian Americans and Santa Clara’s second openly gay council member.
The purported recall effort comes after $6 million in a losing court battle and another half a million in ballot measures to preserve Santa Clara’s former at-large election system — a system that cemented a revolving door, all-white city council in power long after the City became a minority-majority community. The committee wants to recall Council Members Suds Jain, Kevin Park and Anthony Becker, who is challenging Mayor Lisa Gillmor for the mayor’s seat.
“It seems like the old guard is trying to hold on by their fingertips and overturn the will of the voters for candidates that were elected in free and fair elections,” said Executive Director of the Asian Law Alliance, Richard Konda. “It’s shocking to me that they would stoop so low.”
The recall was announced on the blog run by Robert Haugh, notable for its vulgar and bigoted following.* The group’s website offers no information about who is behind the committee but is almost identical in style to that of the also-unregistered Stand Up For Santa Clara political committee; which claims a non-existent mailing address that, if it did exist, would be next to Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s real estate office.
Burt Field, a longtime official with the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League, says he’s a founder of the recall committee, according to Haugh. Field is also one of the leaders of Stand Up, a self-described “grassroots” group that has actively campaigned on social media and by email against minority candidates since 2016. Stand Up has been advertising the recall attempt since early Sunday morning. Council Member Kathy Watanabe has also been publicizing it on her City Council Facebook page.
Santa Clara Libraries Trustee Lee Broughman has publicly promised many times to lead a recall against Becker. Likewise, one-time South Bay politico James Rowen writes almost daily to City officials and members of the press attacking the three targeted by Field. Rowen has filed 25 public records requests this year alone about Becker, Jain and Park’s communications — including those with family members — and regularly posts on Haugh’s blog under various pseudonyms.
Brian Doyle, the fired city attorney threatening the City with a wrongful termination lawsuit, is another longtime Burt Field ally who may have a role in this recall threat. This year he began regularly filing FPPC complaints against Council Members Becker, Raj Chahal, Karen Hardy, Jain and Park — none of which so far have been found by the Fair Political Practices Commission to have merit. The complaints are then publicized by Haugh and will likely appear on campaign materials if the recall gets off the ground.
The committee announced itself and put up a website soliciting names and email addresses before even minimally complying with state regulations concerning political committees or recall elections. The committee has no FPPC number and has filed none of the required disclosures, although Field said he intends to do so before collecting donations.
Nor has the committee filed the required notice of intention to circulate a recall petition, which has to be served to the target of the recall and published twice in a newspaper of general circulation.
City Clerk Hosam Haggag didn’t respond by publication time to our request for comment on these apparent violations.
Recalls of Local Officials Aren’t Easy
To conduct a local government recall in California, filing the necessary notices of intention and committee disclosures is the easy part. Actually getting to the point of having an election is far more difficult.
The next step is collecting signatures in a specific format that includes, among other things, the names of the principal donors to the campaign. For each of the three council districts, the committee will have to collect valid signatures from 25% of the registered voters in the district, depending on the number of voters in that district. The committee then has 60 days to submit the petitions to the Registrar of Voters, who has 30 days to verify the signatures.
If the petition passes muster, an election must be called between three to four months after the order to call the election and can be combined with a regular election if one falls within that date. Otherwise, a special election is called, which will cost Santa Clara at least $200,000.
*Gillmor and O’Neill were instrumental in launching Haugh’s blog and continue to actively promote it. O’Neill is a contributor to the blog. Council Member Watanabe is another promoter.