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