Evergreen trustee Jim Zito is running for San Jose City Council

San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas dodged a rival earlier this month when Rose Herrera confirmed she won’t challenge Arenas’ re-election next year. But that relief didn’t last long.

About a week later, a new, formidable opponent jumped into the San Jose City Council District 8 race — Republican Jim Zito. He told San José Spotlight in an exclusive interview that he decided to pull papers for multiple races — Assembly District 27 against Ash Kalra and District 8 against Arenas — because he believes every incumbent should have a challenger. That’s what inspires dialogue about the issues.

But, Zito added, his heart lies in San Jose’s Evergreen district, where he’s lived since 1984 after moving west from Brooklyn. That’s why he decided to run against Arenas.

Zito is no stranger to local politics.

In 2010, he ran for the Evergreen School District Board — despite discouragement from powerful administrators — for a seat that had been uncontested in nearly a decade. As the longest serving trustee, his term expires in 2022.

Zito also served two four-year terms on the San Jose Planning Commission, appointed in 2002, and later started the District 8 Community Round Table, an independent body that hosts a variety of community events. After stints in the high-tech industry, today he works as a long-term substitute teacher teaching 7th grade math.

“I believe the thing that separates me is I’m a fiscal conservative,” said Zito, in addition to his “extensive land use and policy experience” for two decades. “It’s a great neighborhood. It’s a great city. I just want to be sure we understand the consequences of our decisions and go into it with eyes wide open.”

Zito said it’s a consequential time for San Jose, particularly District 8, which encompasses Evergreen and East San Jose. The city will revise its general plan, and specifically a development plan that guides growth in Evergreen, in addition to wrestling with the housing affordability crisis, bolstering retail in the district and dealing with a lawsuit over developing surplus college land.

Zito, who considers himself socially moderate, said he’ll focus his City Council campaign around homelessness, traffic, responsible development and taxes.

Since winning her election in 2016, Arenas said she has a track record of fighting for progressive policies that benefit working families, equitable funding across the city, more resources for women and children and better roads.

The progressive lawmaker won endorsements from her colleagues, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Maya Esparza, Sergio Jimenez and Magdalena Carrasco, along with California Sen. Jim Beall, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and Evergreen School Board President Bonnie Mace.

“I’ve worked to bring people together around common sense solutions for Evergreen families,” Arenas told San José Spotlight. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together, and honored to have earned widespread support from community leaders and families. Regardless of who is recruited by special interests to pursue their right wing political agenda, I’ll continue to focus on bringing people together, not dividing them.”

City Hall insiders have speculated in recent weeks that business interests are recruiting candidates, including Herrera, to run against Arenas to force labor leaders to stretch their resources by spending money to defend Arenas in that race. The 2020 local elections in San Jose could have a significant impact on which political faction — business or labor — controls the City Council, threatening Mayor Sam Liccardo’s narrow 6-5 majority that aligns itself with business.

Zito, however, said he’ll remain focused on the issues facing Evergreen and other San Jose neighborhoods.

“I’m always looking at the numbers. I’m always looking at how we make things work,” he said. “There are a lot of issues confronting us.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at ramona@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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