Santa Clara needs Bha­tia, Park, Jain, Becker on coun­cil

The Mercury News - - Opinion -

It’s hard to over­state the need for new faces on the Santa Clara City Coun­cil.

To un­der­stand why, con­sider some of the coun­cil’s fail­ures: Bungling of the costly vot­ing rights law­suit against the city; poor re­la­tion­ships with neigh­bor­ing cities; over­pay­ing of high­rank­ing staff; and the on­go­ing, costly le­gal bat­tles with the San Fran­cisco 49ers over man­age­ment of Levi’s Sta­dium. All at con­sid­er­able ex­pense to Santa Clara tax­pay­ers.

The heart of the prob­lem is that three coun­cil­women — Kathy Watanabe, Debi Davis and Teresa O’Neill — vote in lock­step with Mayor Lisa Gill­mor on Santa Clara is­sues. Gill­mor is smart and knowl­edge­able. But her com­bat­ive, “my way or the high­way” ap­proach to govern­ing hurts the city.

Santa Clara res­i­dents this fall will vote by district for the first time. With four seats up for grabs, four can­di­dates are work­ing to­gether to break Gill­mor’s stran­gle­hold on city pol­i­tics. Vot­ers should elect Har­bir Bha­tia in District 1, Kevin Park in District 4, Suds Jain in District 5 and An­thony Becker in District 6.

All four op­posed Mea­sure C, the ridicu­lous pro­posal backed by Gill­mor and her al­lies for three coun­cil dis­tricts with two rep­re­sen­ta­tives each. All four orig­i­nally op­posed con­struc­tion of Levi’s Sta­dium, but they all be­lieve the city should seek a less con­tentious work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the 49ers. And all four want to rein in waste­ful spend­ing.

The city’s pro­jected $33 mil­lion bud­get deficit high­lights the fool­ish­ness of some of the cur­rent coun­cil mem­bers’ costly de­ci­sions.

Their re­fusal to ac­cept a 2018 court or­der that forced Santa Clara to switch from at-large elec­tions to di­vid­ing the city into six coun­cil dis­tricts cost tax­pay­ers an es­ti­mated $4 mil­lion in le­gal fees.

Their feud with the 49ers and their de­ci­sion to im­pose a cur­few on Levi’s Sta­dium con­certs have been sim­i­larly costly. The con­certs gen­er­ated more than $2.5 mil­lion per year for the city from 2015-18. But that num­ber dropped to $9,000 in 2019 af­ter the cur­few was im­posed.

Their ap­proval of City Man­ager Deanna San­tana’s to­tal com­pen­sa­tion pack­age of more than $700,000 makes her the se­cond-high­est-paid city man­ager in Cal­i­for­nia. The com­bined salar­ies of the city’s top 10 high­est-paid em­ploy­ees in 2018 was $3.54 mil­lion. That’s more than any other city in the South Bay.

It all points to the need for new lead­er­ship in Santa Clara.

District 1

Santa Clara’s north­side district is home to Levi’s Sta­dium and is tar­geted for the ad­ja­cent $1 bil­lion Re­lated de­vel­op­ment. The district needs a thought­ful, en­gaged coun­cil mem­ber who can han­dle ma­jor chal­lenge.

Bha­tia is one of the most im­pres­sive coun­cil can­di­dates in Santa Clara in years. She has a mas­ter’s de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing from Santa Clara Univer­sity and has sig­nif­i­cant plan­ning ex­pe­ri­ence. She has de­voted the past 15 years of her life to work­ing with com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

She founded the Santa Clara Com­mu­nity Coali­tion, which has been serv­ing meals to 1,000 fam­i­lies dur­ing the COVID-19 cri­sis and made and do­nated more than 40,000 masks for lo­cal groups. She has a firm un­der­stand­ing of Santa Clara’s fis­cal chal­lenges and wants to cre­ate a shut­tle sys­tem with neigh­bor­ing cities to im­prove traf­fic flow. Her op­po­nent, Watanabe, re­fused to meet with us.

District 4

The district lo­cated in the south­west por­tion of the city of­fers the big­gest chal­lenge for vot­ers. O’Neill is smart and ex­pe­ri­enced, but her rep­u­ta­tion as an in­de­pen­dent thinker when she came onto the coun­cil has dis­ap­peared in re­cent years. That’s one of the rea­sons vot­ers should in­stead choose Park, an en­gi­neer who has lived in Santa Clara for 27 years and served on a wide range of boards and com­mit­tees in re­cent years. He wants to rein in the city’s spend­ing on need­less law­suits and over­paid city staff.

District 5

Few peo­ple in Santa Clara are as well-in­formed and en­gaged in Santa Clara pol­i­tics as Jain. He has at­tended every goal-set­ting ses­sion the city has had and his five years on the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion would make him an in­valu­able ad­di­tion to the coun­cil on hous­ing and lan­duse is­sues. His knowl­edge of the coun­cil’s fi­nan­cial and hous­ing chal­lenges dwarfs that of his chal­lenger, Bob O’Keefe, a re­tired Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol lieu­tenant and life­long res­i­dent of Santa Clara who is backed by Gill­mor.

District 6

Becker has gained con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing on the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion since his failed run to un­seat Gill­mor in 2018. He wants to fo­cus on end­ing Santa Clara’s di­vi­sive­ness and im­prov­ing the city’s af­ford­able hous­ing is­sues. His op­po­nents are Rob Mezetti, who is backed by Gill­mor and has had busi­ness deal­ings with her in his role as an at­tor­ney, and Gary Bauve, who de­clined to be in­ter­viewed.

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