Mayor Lisa Gillmor may have many shortcomings, but one of them isn’t a lack of imagination.
Unable to get the City’s actual voters behind her agenda, she and her allies have invented a whole new class of voters in Santa Clara elections — voters who don’t live here.
It’s a bold move that would earn the admiration of New York City’s 19th century wizard of political corruption, Boss Tweed. Tweed invented a lot of individual voters, but even he didn’t have the imagination to openly invent an entirely new class of voters.
At the July 12 City Council meeting Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Council Member Kathy Watanabe and Planning Commissioner Ron Patrick advanced the novel idea that “qualified elector in the City of Santa Clara” isn’t limited to people who reside in Santa Clara in the plain meaning of the word. They assert that working here, visiting friends here and the occasional snooze in your parked car also qualifies you to vote here.
As Gillmor put it, “It doesn’t matter where you live as long as the Registrar of Voters qualifies you as an elector in the City of Santa Clara.”
Boss Tweed couldn’t have said it better.
How will this work out?
This means that tens of thousands of employees of NVIDIA, Intel, Kaiser Permanente, Applied Materials and Apple will now be able to vote in Santa Clara by merely claiming their offices as their home addresses. Jed York can register to vote from his office on 4949 Marie DeBartolo Way, as can every other 49er and Levi’s Stadium employee. Denying their applications would invite discrimination and voter suppression lawsuits.
Perhaps Council Member Kathy Watanabe, a strong supporter of the new Gillmor standard, thinks many of these new voters would be in her district.
But that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.
Pre-COVID, it was estimated that the population of Santa Clara doubles between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Adding tens of thousands of new voters to the rolls in Santa Clara will likely trigger a demand for redistricting. We could end up with five of six districts in the industrial Northside and the rest of Santa Clara in a single district.
Imagine a City Council with members from the Intel, NVIDIA, Applied Materials and Levi’s Stadium districts holding the deciding votes on land use questions or developer fees.
Northside commercial property owners could put together a coalition to reduce to zero the City’s share of parking fees collected on their lots.
Maybe Related could team up with hoteliers to abolish the City’s hotel and sales taxes. They could vote to load actual Santa Clara taxpayers with trillions in bond debt — remember, they have a hundred thousand employees to vote for those bond measures.
Not only is Gillmor & Co.’s cavalier attitude toward voter qualification disturbing. Their attitude toward obeying the law is even more alarming. Living, as Patrick claims to, in a manufacturing facility violates both city code and state law.
Per the city attorney’s report: “The use of the building for one ‘dwelling unit’ would also not comply with the minimum density for residential units on the site, which is 60 dwelling units per acre.”
In addition, there is no residential certificate of occupancy — a violation of the California Building Code.
And we’re talking about appointment to a commission that oversees these very codes.
But Gillmor et al. aren’t the only ones at fault here.
We have tried to learn what standards the Registrar of Voters uses to qualify voters, but the Registrar of Voters has stonewalled us so far. Right now, it appears that any address from which mail doesn’t return ‘addressee unknown” or “no such address” qualifies someone to register to vote there.
In the meantime, invite your friends to visit Santa Clara for a few months to cast their ballots for mayor.