San Jose City Council hopeful Sukhdev Bainiwal said he has watched his Evergreen neighborhood deteriorate over the past 40 years. He believes he will be the one to change the district’s trajectory.
Bainiwal is a 56-year-old engineer, former city airport commissioner and longtime director on the board of the Sikh Gurdwara of San Jose. He is looking to challenge incumbent Councilmember Domingo Candelas for the District 8 seat. This is not his first attempt at securing a council seat—Bainiwal unsuccessfully sought the District 8 appointment to fill the vacancy in January. Candelas is also running to keep his seat.
Bainiwal is eager to try again. He said while the council picked Candelas, he is confident residents will benefit from his leadership if elected next year.
He said his top priorities are to address homelessness, affordability and economic vibrancy.
“What really got me interested in taking action in my own neighborhood is hearing neighbors complain about things like catalytic converters getting stolen, homelessness starting to creep into District 8 and lack of cleanliness,” Bainiwal told San José Spotlight. “So before those problems get worse, I think this neighborhood council needs to take care of them.”
Bainiwal wants to address growing homelessness by doubling down on interim housing construction. He believes, similar to Mayor Matt Mahan, that focusing on temporary, quick-build solutions is the best approach to moving people off the streets.
While that happens, Bainiwal wants to increase the city’s affordable housing stock—what he believes is the root of the homelessness crisis. To do so, he wants to speed up the city’s permitting process, which has a backlog, and incentivize developers to build. He also wants to encourage residents to build ADUs—mini homes in their backyards—because they’re known to be cheaper to construct.
“But what’s happening is the permitting process takes long, there’s these fees that you have to pay and then on top of that, once you’re done with your ADU, your property taxes go up,” Bainiwal said. “So we need incentives like not increasing taxes for five years (after an ADU) or cutting the fees.”
Bainiwal also wants to revive his district’s commercial centers by creating programs to support small businesses to open in the Evergreen Shopping Center. His goal is to bring in nice restaurants and shops to the Eastridge mall so residents don’t have to travel to other malls across the city.
The council hopeful also wants to invest in parks, particularly Lake Cunningham. The city recently received state funding to clean the now-polluted and dilapidated lake.
Bainiwal immigrated to the Evergreen area with his family at age 11, where he’s since raised four children. District 8 has the largest Indian and Sikh population in the city and is home to Northern California’s largest gurdwara, so the area is meaningful to Bainiwal.
Harfateh Singh, an active member of the local gurdwara who has been involved with local political campaigns, said for the last decade he’s seen Bainiwal consistently be a leader who listens to the community and is well liked. He said Bainiwal is someone who is able to get things done.
“He has connections with every subset of the community. He is present, he shows up and always tries to get the youth involved too,” Singh told San José Spotlight. “Also, his engineering background means he is also solutions oriented and it works.”
But Bainiwal’s path to council may not be easy as he’s previously faced accusations of domestic abuse.
A 1999 declaration from Bainiwal’s ex-wife during divorce and child custody proceedings accused him of physical, mental and sexual abuse. She also said Bainiwal’s family friends, including a dentist, prescribed her medication to keep her calm. She described their arranged marriage as a nightmare.
Bainiwal vehemently denies the allegations from his ex, who has since moved back to India with her family. He said his former wife suffered from mental health issues, including what he described as “manic depressive” episodes, and at times skipped medication, which led to their divorce.
He said he’s been happily married to his current wife for 23 years and remains friends with his in-laws from the previous marriage.
Bainiwal’s ex-brother-in-law Rajinder Singh previously told San José Spotlight he never saw his sister being abused when he lived with the couple for a few months in the 1990s.
“I am a family man and family values are utmost important to me—high education and respect for each other,” Bainiwal said. “Nothing of that sort is even thinkable in my house and my beautiful kind wife and children stand beside me.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.