Only 45% of Santa Clara residents are white, according to the 2010 census. However, out of six City Council seats, one mayor and one vice mayor, there is only one councilmember who is not white.
“We are in a minority-majority city and not having a councilmember of color, of minority, for so long — it was such a disgrace to our whole community,” said Santa Clara Councilmember Raj Chahal.
In 2018, Chahal became the first minority candidate in decades to be elected to Santa Clara City Council. This was after a judge ordered the city to transition to a district system because it was found in violation of the California Voters Rights Act via a lawsuit by the Asian Law Alliance.
On Wednesday, four City Council candidates — Harbir Bhatia, Kevin Park, Suds Jain and Anthony Becker — hosted a joint press conference on Zoom and Facebook Live to convey a message that Santa Clara needs more minority leaders.
The candidates said the press conference wasn’t a direct response to a recent event but was brought up to address a long, ongoing issue.
There are four Santa Clara City Council seats up for election in November. Bhatia said five of the nine candidates are minorities.
“This is the most important election in the history of the city,” said Wesley Mukoyama, a human-rights advocate and a retired senior services executive. “If we lose four candidates, it will go back to at-large voting.”
Bhatia added at least two minority candidates have to win out of the four available seats to bring the change they want.
One obstacle candidates said they have to overcome are the endorsements from third-party agencies who only support white candidates and create systemic racism.
“I look out on such a clear, beautiful day. I know we have fires in the hills but at the same time, this city has always been burning,” Park said. “And it’s really sad on days like today, the landscape for minorities is still very hazy and very dark.”
This issue resurfaced in March when Measure C failed to have voters approve reducing the number of council districts from six to three.
“What we’re seeing is that people don’t seem to realize that there is a systemic issue in our city, and it’s not the first time — it’s been 70 years it’s been going on,” Bhatia told San José Spotlight. “We realized we really need to find a visible way to explain and present our platforms but also talk about the underlying segregation in terms of powers.”
She added having “one block” in City Hall continually appoint candidates who support their ideas and policies isn’t equitable, especially when new councilmembers tend to be white. The 2010 census reported Asians accounted for 37% of Santa Clara’s population of more than 115,000.
“We’re going to change this city no matter what way, no matter what how, because I have one message for Mrs. Gillmor and her majority, ‘Your time is up,’” Becker said.
Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor did not respond to a request for comment.
Contact Luke Johnson at [email protected] and follow @Scoop_Johnson on Twitter.