Former San Jose Councilmember Charlotte Powers, remembered as a trailblazer and hero for women, died Sept. 28 at the age of 82.
“She was a dedicated, honest, hard working councilmember and an inclusive person that I admired very much,” said Blanca Alvarado, a former Santa Clara County supervisor and San Jose councilmember who served alongside Powers.
Powers died from complications related to her longtime battle with Parkinson’s disease, leaving behind four children, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Her son Bruce Powers looked back on the family gatherings at her house, the wine and cheese activities she held where they would discuss issues from politics and equal rights for people to arts in the community.
“Those were very important topics for her and she used them as teaching moments for my daughter and her grandchildren to understand how we fit in the community and where we belong the most,” Bruce said.
Bruce recollected how she taught her loved ones to value each other, and to be a strong family during good times and in moments of adversity.
In 1963, Powers moved to San Jose from Santa Barbara with her husband and children, becoming a teacher at Cupertino Union School District where she met many of her lifelong friends.
Before serving in City Hall from 1992 to 2000, she campaigned to shift San Jose City Council from citywide to district-based elections in the 70s, according to Terry Christensen, longtime political scientist and SJSU professor.
District-based elections, he said, improves the opportunities for people of color and women to become elected. San Jose residents elected their first district-based City Council in 1980.
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez recalled Powers as someone who cared for others and was generous with her time and candid with feedback. Chavez said Powers helped her learn the ropes when Chavez became a councilmember in 1999.
“I enjoyed her company. I appreciated her leadership,” Chavez said, who was a volunteer for Powers’ campaign for City Council. “She was just a very warm, fun, kind, generous person. And she really cared about her community. She really cared about people.”
Powers, who represented District 2 encompassing areas of South San Jose, touched the city in many ways, Chavez said, including her support of arts, affordable housing, workers’ rights and preservation of the environment.
She was an advocate in maintaining open space, Christensen added, managing the city’s growth and deferring the development of Coyote Valley.
Meri Maben was a community activist fighting against hillside development in the 1990s, working with Powers to oppose the proposed development of Boulder Ridge Golf Club. Powers fought against the proposal, Maben said, concerned about its potential consequences for the environment. Powers was an elected official who stood up for her values, Maben said.
“She was a hero to women at that time,” Maben told San José Spotlight. “We needed role models to see how women could succeed, not only for running for office but also for leading in government.”
After leaving City Hall, Powers served as a board member at arts organizations like San Jose Jazz, San Jose Stage and CreaTV San Jose. She was also a board member for the San Jose-Dublin Sister City Program, where she aimed to build relationships, and promote the exchange of arts and culture, receiving the Spirit of Ireland Award.
As she battled Parkinsons’ disease, Powers spent every day of her last years at the First Presbyterian Church of San Jose to help women who were unhoused.
“She never stopped caring for others,” Chavez said. “Given the times that we live in right now, it’s a powerful reminder of the importance of deeply caring for others and their welfare.”