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Was Santa Clara Opinion “Poll” Aimed at Ousting Gillmor, Kolstad and Matthews?

Last week a telephone poll made the rounds in Santa Clara, purportedly about issues of importance to Santa Clara voters. I was one of those surveyed.

Most of the issues were politically-charged sound-bites for persuading voters to pass a hypothetical 2016 ballot measure limiting City Council Members to a lifetime total of 12 years in elected office, and applying it to sitting Council Members.

The effect of the measure, as described, would be to immediately remove Council Members Lisa Gilmore, Pat Kolstad and, if the language of proposed initiative is taken at face value, Mayor Jamie Matthews from office as of Dec. 1, 2016.

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The confusion comes from the City Charter section (704.1) separating the office of Mayor from the Council Seat term limits. Time served [as] elected Mayor is not time served on the Council and time served on the Council is not time served [as] elected Mayor.

The remaining Council Members – Dominic Caserta (who would be barred from running for re-election in 2018) Debi Davis, Jerry Marsalli, Teresa O’Neill and, possibly, Matthews – would then appoint replacements to serve out the unfinished terms (City Charter Section 703). If vacancies aren’t filled in 30 days, a special election must be held – with a concomitant second campaign season.

Since the proposed initiative simply says, elected office, that could also apply to Santa Clara’s Clerk, Rod Diridon Jr., who was first elected to the position of Clerk in 2004 and reelected in 2008 and 2012, after serving two terms on the City Council.

Matthews served on the Council from 1998 to 2006, was elected again in 2008, and elected Mayor in 2010. Gillmor served on the Council from 1988 to 1996, was appointed to fill Matthews’ vacant seat in 2010, and re-elected in 2012. Kolstad served two terms from 2000 to 2008, and was elected again in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

Regardless of how well the poll’s sponsors – who are unknown right now – read the City Charter, the political agenda was clear: promoting the idea that there’s a network of ‘old boys’ and family dynasties controlling Santa Clara government. For example: We have had too many years of the same families in elected positions; Some current politicians are the children of former Santa Clara politicians and some have served previously in office; and A few politicians have controlled the Council – we need term limits to prevent this.

Santa Clara’s supposed political ‘old boys club’ has been a favorite narrative at the San Jose Mercury News for at least three decades: How Ex-Santa Clara Mayor Rose As Power Broker in August 1987; Santa Clara Election Full Of Familiar Faces in July1988; Santa Clara Race Recycles Known Names in Oct. 1988; The Names Are Familiar, But All The Faces Aren’t A New Gillmor Enters in Nov. 1992; and Old Guard Making A Play In Santa Clara in Nov. 2004.

Council member Lisa Gillmor fits the exact profile described in last week’s poll.

She’s the daughter of former Mayor and Council Member Gary Gillmor, who was first elected to the Council in 1965 and served as the City’s first elected Mayor from 1969 to 1977. Lisa was first elected to the Council in1988, and reelected in 1992. She was then appointed in 2010 to finish Matthews’ Council term when he was elected Mayor and re-elected in 2012. Lisa Gillmor unsuccessfully ran for Mayor in 1994, losing to Judy Nadler.

Others in City government could be considered targets, as well. Diridon is the son of former Saratoga City Council Member, County Supervisor and California High-Speed Rail Authority Member Rod Diridon Sr. Marsalli is the son a former City Council Member and Mayor Larry Marsalli.

The poll’s funder is unknown. And the company that conducted it, Ogden Utah-based Quantel Research Corp., is shadowy, as well. None of the company’s three published phone numbers are working numbers. Quantel Research’s business registration expired last July according to Utah Division of Corporations’ records.

Formerly based in Fairfield, Calif. under the name Pacific Crest Research, Quantel Research gained notoriety in New York City in 2005 when it conducted push polls – polls for shaping, not measuring, public opinion – to gin up support for a sports arena development in Brooklyn. In the course of the campaign, the pollster called the leading opponent of the development, Patti Hagan; which reported in BrooklynPaper.com – including a transcript of the entire conversation.

Campaign for District-Based Elections?

Some link the poll to an item on this week’s Council agenda to form a Charter Review committee. That’s Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold’s view. He wrote Monday that changing Council elections to a district-based system like San Jose’s – mentioned once in the poll – was a done deal, discussed at a closed session recently, that has caught fire and was unfolding at lightening speed.

Herhold offers no source beyond his reading of the Oct. 27 Council meeting agenda, which proposes a Charter Review Committee to consider; i) the manner of electing Members to the City Council; ii) City Council compensation; and iii) whether other Charter elements are no longer in compliance with current laws or best practices. The Council ethics subcommittee – Caserta, Davis and O’Neill – requested the Charter review.

The last Charter Review committee to study the City’s seat-based at-large elections was convened in 2011. District elections were considered, but demographic studies showed that the City has no identifiable population basis for drawing district boundaries.

A letter from the San Francisco-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) triggered the review. Created by the architects of the California Voting Rights Act, Joaquin Avila and Robert Rubin, the LCCR makes a lucrative business of voting rights lawsuits claiming that Latinos are under-represented.

The 2011 Charter review committee – which included O’Neill, who was elected to the City Council in 2012 – recommended changing to fully at-large Council elections. In March 2012 the Council voted 5-2 against implementing the recommendations. Kolstad, Gillmor and Mathews were in the majority in that vote.

Voters approved the present Council election system in 1972 – to replace at-large elections.

Quantel Media’s Oct. 2015 Santa Clara Phone Poll Questions

Is Santa Clara headed in the right direction or on the wrong track?

What is your impression of people or organizations in public life: Lisa Gillmor, Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill, SCUSD, Jamie Matthews, Jerry Marsalli, Pat Kolstad, Ken Yeager, Dominic Caserta, Santa Clara City Council, Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce?

Shall the City of Santa Clara impose effective term limits and amend the City Charter to limit the total amount of time in office to 12 years total and should the 12-year limit in office apply to current Council Members?

Rate these issues from extremely unimportant to unimportant: balancing the City budget, revitalizing downtown Santa Clara, the type of development that will replace the City golf course, increasing the efficiency of City government, reducing crime, reducing traffic, creating jobs.

Rate the services the City provides: providing an adequate level of City services, managing the budget and finances, planning for the City’s infrastructure needs.

“Do you agree or disagree: “

  • We have had too many years of the same families in elected positions. It’s time for a change.
  • Santa Clara City Council is spending too much time on less important issues.
  • City Council members are too much beholden to corporate interests.

“Is development in Santa Clara too fast? Too slow?”

“The City Council recently voted to increase the minimum wage. Do you a support or oppose this action?”

“Are the following statements convincing, unconvincing or not true:”

  • Changing term limits is just an administrative change.
  • [The proposed ballot initiative] will increase diversity on the Council.
  • [The proposed ballot initiative] will mirror term limits in the State Legislature, which is now more effective because of the 12 year limitation.
  • Some current politicians are the children of former Santa Clara politicians and some have served previously in office. It’s time for change.
  • A few politicians have controlled the Council. We need term limits to prevent this.
  • We already have term limits.

“After hearing these statements would you vote for/against the proposed term limit initiative?”

Santa Clara City Council Members are currently elected at-large by seat. Should this system be replaced with geographic districts where Council Members must reside in the district and are elected by the residents of that district?

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