Peter Ortiz spends his days walking down the Alum Rock business corridor, talking to small business owners. Next year, he hopes to walk the top floor of San Jose City Hall.
Ortiz, who serves as a Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee, announced Thursday he is running for the San Jose City Council District 5 seat, which includes East San Jose. He hopes to replace Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco who terms out next year.
An educator and small business advocate, Ortiz, 31, said he is focused on small business support, public safety and bringing what he calls a “new deal” for the region.
“We need to take action now,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “There is a lack of resources and intentional infrastructure to support our East San Jose institutions. If there’s one thing we learned, there’s historically been under-resourced neighborhoods, and East San Jose is the number one under-resourced community in the city.”
The pandemic disproportionately ravaged East San Jose, one of the most heavily Latino districts in the city. Ortiz says he plans to bring direct economic aid to the district if he gets a seat on the council.
As part of his so-called new deal, Ortiz wants to implement a community benefits package that will include paid job training for the district’s unemployed residents, sanctioned encampments, youth programs and alternative policing, such as community patrols.
“He’s very well-rounded,” said Claudia Rossi, one of Ortiz’s colleagues on the school board. Rossi said she’s impressed with Ortiz’s passion and expertise in education and policy. “Not only is he someone who has a deep commitment to addressing the needs of low-engaged youth, but he has also really championed the office, focusing on youth intervention.”
Ortiz previously served on the Mt. Pleasant School Board from 2016 to 2018. He ran for and won a seat on the county board of education in 2018 at age 29—the youngest person ever to be elected to the board. He’s also the public policy advisor for the Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association.
“He’s someone who can work with everybody,” Rossi said. “And I think that’s really important. Someone who can build coalitions around issues that affect our families.”
Connie Alvarez, president of the business association, says Ortiz’s advocacy for small businesses will not only help East San Jose but the city as a whole. She agreed Ortiz is someone who knows policy and is approachable—two qualities she thinks will make him a good fit for City Hall. Ortiz often walks what the association calls “the corridor”—the rows of small businesses on Alum Rock to personally speak to business owners.
“He’s always offered to train us in any way that he can,” Alvarez said. “We can go to him and know we can get an answer.”
A renter, Ortiz says he’s uniquely qualified to help with the city’s affordable housing crisis. He grew up off of White Road in East San Jose with his mother and two older brothers. His troubled past as a gang member and growing up in poverty motivates him daily to help out youth in East San Jose.
Ortiz works as a strategist at San Jose-based nonprofit Year Up, which provides career-building help to underserved young adults. He’s looking to bring that experience to the council through youth programs.
“If we’re able to invest in youth before they go down the wrong path, before they slip through the cracks, we’ll be able to save a lot of the money we waste to criminalize and incarcerate our populations,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz is the first to jump into what could become a crowded race for the open District 5 seat.
It’s unclear who Carrasco might endorse to replace her, though Ortiz appears to be in her inner circle.
Other candidates rumored to be mulling a run for the seat are Alum Rock Union School District Trustee Andres Quintero, Planning Commission Chair Rolando Bonilla and former Assemblywoman Nora Campos, who previously represented the East Side district.
Campos and Quintero could not immediately be reached for comment. Bonilla would not confirm Wednesday whether he’ll join the race. He said people have asked him to run, and he’s taking their calls “into consideration.”
“At the moment, I’m singularly focused on serving my community to the best of my ability,” Bonilla said.
The two men have butted heads over their pandemic-related policies to help East San Jose, but Ortiz says he’s solely “focused on solutions.”
“Critiquing the work of others doesn’t benefit anyone,” Ortiz said.