A leadership class by County Supervisor Joe Simitian opened Santa Clara Councilmember Suds Jain’s eyes to how much of the work of governing takes place behind the scenes.
Seeing Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth was the catalyst for Jain to set out on the road towards a Council seat where he could do the work and make it count.
“I had enough money to be comfortable,” said Jain. “My energy could be better contributed to work on climate change. But I had no idea how to go about it.”
In 2008 Jain retired from technology and began working full-time on environmental issues. He started by educating himself about climate science, and joined the community environmentalism empowerment non-profit Acterra, serving as its Board President from 2018-2019.
“If you have innate curiosity you can learn a lot,” he said, “but you have to understand the scientific method, distinguish peer-reviewed journals from non-credible sources. You go to a lot of conferences and read. You have to be dedicated and curious.
“I heard that the city was doing a climate action plan (CAP),” he continued. “I read the CAP and it didn’t go nearly far enough. [Because] the CAP comes from the planning department, so I decided I needed to be on the Planning Commission.”
Born in India, Jain’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was two, and he grew up in Davis, where his father taught at UC Davis. After graduating from MIT, Jain worked for Bell Labs in New Jersey — a dream job for the chip designer.
He returned to California in the 1980s to be close to his parents and joined a fast-growing company that went public shortly before he joined. That allowed him to devote his time to practical environmentalism.
Jain and his wife moved to Santa Clara after the couple tired of commuting from Redwood City to jobs in San Jose.
“It turned out Santa Clara was more affordable, and we lucked into a historic house – 1935 Wilson house.” That was more than two decades ago and since then Jain has been a tireless voice for sustainability and green development in the City of Santa Clara.
For five years he advocated for a City sustainability manager, and in 2020 City Manager Deanna Santana made it a City priority.
Despite that, Jain realized that his ability to influence City policy remained limited.
“On the Planning Commission I quickly realized, that, if a project meets the general plan and zoning I have to approve it,” he said. “A lot of policies could be implemented to make the City better, but I didn’t have the power. Only by getting on Council could I implement those policies.”
One of those policies is to have traffic demand plans for new developments that include accumulated traffic impact — something that is not presently done — and holding developers accountable.
He offers the example of Mountain View, which has asked Google to reduce the drive-alone rate to the tech giant’s new North Bayshore campus, with a $100,000 fine for every percent of the goal Google misses.
Jain is looking forward to serving on the historic 2021 Santa Clara City Council.
“Three years ago, there weren’t any engineers on our Council,” he said, “and now we have four. I’m delighted.”