UPDATE: San Jose works to fill two vacant council seats
Inside the San Jose City Council chambers in April 2022. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose will see a stunning shakeup next year with seven new faces on the City Council, with two current elected officials assuming new offices.

    As of Wednesday, District 10 Councilmember Matt Mahan has won his bid to be the next San Jose mayor. District 8 Councilmember Sylvia Arenas will represent Santa Clara County District 1 as its supervisor. That leaves two vacancies on the 11-member council. This will be part of the other turnover with seats changing in Districts 1, 3, 5 and potentially 7.

    The San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to start the process of how to fill those vacant seats, while the council still has all of its members. Councilmembers will make the final decision on how the seats are filled by Dec. 18, but replacements won’t assume offices until next year.

    According to the city’s rules, when there’s an empty seat on the dais, councilmembers can choose to make a permanent appointment, hold a special election to fill the seat or pick an interim appointment while the special election is taking place.

    Some residents urged the city to quickly appoint replacements for the two vacant seats. Neil Park, an organizer with Working Partnerships USA, said a special election would be too costly.

    “We need to be thoughtful about city resources and the timing of the upcoming 2024 elections as well,” he said. “An appointment would be a standard practice like many of our cities, states and counties do to fill a seat.”

    Others said a special election is the only fair way to find new representatives.

    “To employ any system other than election is fundamentally wrong and incompatible with our democracy, especially when it involves two seats on the city council,” said San Jose resident David Heindel. “Any other process disenfranchises all the citizens of Districts 8 and 10.”

    Councilmember David Cohen said a special election could take up to six months.

    “As councilmembers, the job is not just about policy and positions but also working, responding to calls and being there for the residents of the district,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “We don’t want to leave the seat vacant for too long. It’s important to have somebody fill it.”

    The replacements for the District 8 and 10 seats will serve two years before facing reelection in 2024—when their terms are up. Mahan will also have to fight for his seat again in two years because voters approved a measure in June to move San Jose’s mayoral elections to presidential years.

    The council will meet at least two times to figure out how to fill the seats, City Clerk Toni Taber said. Officials are hoping to schedule the first meeting this month.

    The city would have to pay the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters for a special election. Spokesperson Michael Borja said two special elections in Districts 8 and 10 could cost millions of dollars, but the county is still working out the actual costs. The special election in 2015 to fill a vacant seat in District 4 cost roughly $1.2 million, according to the county.

    Mahan, whose seat will be up for grabs, advocates for a special election. He was first elected to the council in 2020.

    “We can’t talk about how democracy was on the ballot in 2022 and then take it away from San Jose voters in 2023,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “The people should choose their representatives via a vote of the people.”

    Arenas’ office didn’t say how her open seat should be filled, but agreed the process should start soon. Arenas has served on the council for six years after being elected in 2016 and winning reelection in 2020.

    “Councilmember Arenas believes it’s vitally important that District 8 residents continue to have a strong voice on the San Jose City Council without interruption,” Patrick McGarrity, Arenas’ policy director, told San José Spotlight. “So even as the registrar of voters continues tabulating the results in the supervisors’ race, the council must begin working to quickly fill this anticipated vacancy.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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