Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee. Photo courtesy Eric Stroker.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee. Photo courtesy Eric Stroker.

    Santa Clara County District 3 Supervisor Otto Lee claimed victory in November following an ugly contest with candidates exchanging barbs over campaign finance and racial comments.

    On the campaign trail, Lee promised broader rent relief for tenants, a more aggressive plan to combat homelessness and labor-related proposals, including hazard pay. Since taking office, Lee introduced a grant program called D3 URJGENT Grants, which provides community members and grassroots organizations with funds that fulfill Lee’s broad priority categories, including homelessness, racial justice initiatives and green efforts.

    Amid the startling rise in anti-Asian American hate crimes, Lee, a Bronze Star recipient, introduced sweeping proposals last month that focus on racial justice and hate crime prevention.

    “Clearly, condemning these attacks isn’t going to cut it,” Lee said. “I thought about what are we going to do about it? We’ve tried to do better outreach … to different ethnic groups to let people understand how important it is to speak up.”

    Lee’s made combating crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders a top priority, partnering with several Asian American nonprofits in response to racial attacks.

    San José Spotlight sat down with Lee to ask about his first 100 days on the Board of Supervisors.

    Q: What has been the most challenging part of the job?

    A: When I started this job, I knew public health was a big deal, but I never knew how big public health became—right now it’s one of the only issues. And the county has been in the middle of the whole thing. And being a supervisor in the middle of that has been quite the learning curve. In order to balance all the interests of all the parties while maintaining a safe environment for our county has been a challenge. Initially, it was about (COVID) testing, and then afterward it’s been about vaccinations. Who do we give it to first? And then we learned from the data that Latinos and the African American communities have been the most affected by COVID, but also the least percentage-wise to be able to get vaccinated. All these issues keep compounding on top of each other. There have been no breaks, let’s just put it that way.

    Q: What has surprised you the most?

    A: One thing I’m surprised by is how great the disparity is these days when it comes to Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County. The haves and have-nots are very clear due to COVID. Folks who have had other issues previously regarding wealth disparity and health care with COVID have certainly highlighted those differences in a much more dramatic way. That’s just not good. We have a lot more work to do in the county to work on our public safety net. It’s become such a necessary piece to make sure we are able to get the services delivered.

    Lee, left, with Milpitas elected officials at a “Stop Asian Hate” rally in Milpitas. Photo courtesy Eric Stroker.

    Q: What are some of your longer-term goals for your first term?

    A: The housing problem we have and the need for temporary housing is something that won’t go away once COVID is over. For that reason, we’re working very hard to find ways to make temporary housing. Pallet housing has been such a workable solution. I’ve been looking for ways for this to work for our unhoused population. Land is, of course, the most difficult thing to accommodate in our area. One of the ideas I actually want to explore is adding housing units on top of buildings. We see five- or six-story buildings being built in downtown San Jose. What’s stopping us from putting another story on top? If the structure can hold the weight, the cost of building that would be less than building from the ground up. There are many ways that we can think about (this) and not be shy to come up with new ideas.

    Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district so far?

    A: At this point, the ability for us to get the services and get the vaccines out to everybody. For us to beat COVID, I think the distribution of vaccines is absolutely crucial. That is our number one challenge right now. For a long time, we have not been able to do that faster because of the fact that we had a bottleneck and a constraint on the supply of vaccines.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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