Candidates vying to represent San Jose’s East and Central districts gathered downtown to sound off on their priorities at a recent forum.
The Friday morning forum, hosted by the San Jose Downtown Association, featured District 5 city council candidates Nora Campos, a former state assemblymember, and Santa Clara County Board of Education President Peter Ortiz, as well as incumbent Councilmember Maya Esparza and San Jose fire captain Bien Doan for District 7. Roughly a dozen residents attended the in-person event.
The races to represent District 5 and District 7 have been contested. All the candidates want to address public safety, reduce homelessness and help revitalize small businesses. Neighborhoods in the two districts bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, as residents—many of whom are essential workers—kept Silicon Valley going during the most turbulent times in the last two years.
Campos, who previously held the District 5 seat between 2001 and 2010, led in the June primary election with 30.92% of the vote. Ortiz came in second with 22.48% of the vote, beating out three other candidates.
Esparza, first elected in 2018, won by a landslide in the June election with 47.52% of the vote. Doan secured second place with 28.76% of the vote, beating out East Side Union High School District board member Van Le.
The general election is Nov. 8.
Track record vs. on-the-ground advocacy
With nine years of experience on the San Jose City Council and six in the state Assembly, Campos said she will bring back safety and reduce blight in District 5. She touted her work in Sacramento that paved the way for San Jose to build hundreds of tiny homes for homeless residents.
“The city didn’t move right away, but when the pandemic hit, the language there allowed us to move quickly,” Campos said, adding she also advocated for wraparound services, mental health services and job creation for the homeless population.
Ortiz, who experienced homelessness firsthand in San Jose, said his priority is to keep the unhoused population safe. He supports a housing first approach with wraparound services to address the crisis.
“I know what it’s like to sleep in parks in District 5 and be exposed to the elements at the end of the day,” he said. “(I want to) make sure that we’re providing a multiple prong variety of housing.”
To help revitalize small businesses that suffered during the pandemic, Ortiz wants to establish a debt relief program to alleviate the financial burden many face. As an Alum Rock Santa Clara Street Business Association board member, Ortiz helped advocate for a grant program for East San Jose during the pandemic, but his efforts yielded little results.
“I want to make sure that I’m meeting with small businesses who develop debt and advocate for a debt relief program to provide direct grants for them,” Ortiz said.
Campos said she plans to create a designated group within the city to help small businesses. She also wants the city to pursue state grants for local business owners.
“We need to make sure that these individuals have the resources that they need, because this is their livelihood,” she said.
Experience vs. a new voice
Esparza, with a career working as a nonprofit partner to local government, touted her record of improving public safety by bringing more police patrols to neighborhoods and revitalizing the Monterey corridor.
“I’ve worked hard to overcome decades of neglect to bring new resources to the community, improve public safety, bring more parks and playgrounds, and fix and improve our streets,” Esparza said, noting she has gotten the support of Doan’s colleagues in the San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230.
Doan, who has never run for office, said he is not a politician and is not beholden to any special interests. He took a jab at Esparza’s tenure.
“Just to be frank, I think the last four years, things have gotten worse,” he said. “We face many multiple emergencies, (and) I will lead and I’ll never be afraid of taking on the powerful special interests.”
To address public safety, Doan said he wants to recruit residents to become police officers. He also wants to expand the workforce to better serve the population of more than 1 million people. San Jose is already the most thinly-staffed law enforcement department in any large U.S. city, and hundreds of officers are planning to resign over the next three years.
“We need to recruit right here—people from San Jose who want to live in San Jose and look like San Jose,” he said. “I am totally in support of the police department to be fully staffed according to the population that we have.”
Esparza said she has advocated and secured funding to bring the first ever Vietnamese-speaking police foot patrol to Little Saigon and a pilot patrol program along Coyote Creek Trail. Esparza also supports expanding the police force, but wants to do it in a fiscally responsible way.
“I’ve worked to expand, improve and add more funding to a program that brings resources to high needs neighborhoods and focuses on gang prevention and intervention,” Esparza said. “While it’s easy to say we’ll double the size of the PD at the cost of over $200 million, we also really need to work within our budget constraints.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.