Kathy Watanabe fights for four more years in Santa Clara
The Santa Clara City Council is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Kathy Watanabe has spent much of her first four years on the Santa Clara City Council battling the 49ers, and she does not plan to stop if voters return her to the council for another four-year term representing District 1.

The 49ers and the city have clashed over a variety of issues since 2010, including the team’s rent for Levi’s Stadium, its ability to manage stadium operations and, perhaps most significantly, its 10 p.m. curfew for weeknight events or concerts. Watanabe and many of her supporters want to make sure that curfew stays in place.

“Changing the curfew will have a severe impact on neighborhood protections in District 1 put in place for events,” Watanabe wrote on her re-election Facebook page. She says only the team’s owners, the York family, would benefit from a curfew change.

The Niners, on the other hand, have said no other stadium has such restrictions, and the curfew stunts their ability to book performers, including Ed Sheeran who reportedly canceled due to the curfew.

Watanabe declined requests for interviews for this profile.

In addition to “protecting neighborhoods from negative stadium impacts,” Watanabe lists mitigating noise from San Jose’s Mineta International Airport and restricting RV parking in neighborhoods as her other top priorities.

Watanabe, a retired legal assistant, was appointed to the council in March 2016 as the city’s first Northside representative. She won reelection later that year.

Among her achievements on the council, Watanabe cites adding weekday and Sunday hours to the Northside Library; helping to bring a new, soon-to-open public restroom to Fairway Glen Park; and strengthening an ordinance to deter street-racing and sideshows.

She also says she is proud to have helped shepherd the Related Companies City Place project, now called Related Santa Clara, mixed-use destination development next to Levi’s Stadium that is set to break ground in 2021.

COVID-19 preparedness

Watanabe says she is pleased with the way Santa Clara has responded to challenges presented by the pandemic.

Unlike the economic downturn in 2008, for which the city was not prepared, a robust general fund of approximately $127 million this year helped mitigate economic pain, she said during an online candidate forum hosted by the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce in late September.

“I’ve heard people say that the city is in bad financial shape,” she said. “In 2020, we were prepared. I’m proud of the work we did to build up reserves in good times. … That will help us ride out the pandemic this year without significant cuts to city services.”

According to city administrators, Santa Clara faces a staggering $22.7 million deficit next year due to the pandemic.

On her ballot statement, Watanabe describes leading efforts to help the community through the pandemic by funding and volunteering to feed schoolchildren on weekends, deferring garbage-rate increases and rebating residential electric fees.

Connecting with neighbors

Elected officials backing Watanabe include Mayor Lisa Gillmor and fellow Councilmembers Debi Davis and Teresa O’Neill, as well as U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna. She also has endorsements from the Santa Clara Police Officers Association, the South Bay Labor Council and multiple community leaders.

O’Neill said Watanabe has been passionate about resolving issues in her neighborhood since before the council was divided into districts.

Proximity to the airport helps shape Watanabe’s policy goals.

“People used to say, ‘Hey, if a plane crashes, it’s probably going to crash in Santa Clara,'” O’Neill said. “Santa Clara’s impacted a lot by the airport, and she’s really immersed herself in that issue.”

Darius Brown, a member of Santa Clara’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan Committee, supports Watanabe because, in 2019, she helped him report a racial profiling incident with Santa Clara Police.

Brown, who is Black, said police stopped him while he was walking home on Stevens Creek Boulevard.

“I was profiled and intimidated by a police officer, just walking home on a regular Saturday,” Brown said. “From that incident I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t know who to really report those officers to for the way they harassed me in the middle of the day, walking home, talking to my father on the phone in the city that I’m a resident in.”

After Watanabe met Brown’s mother, she heard about the incident and met with him to discuss what happened and told him how he could report it to the city.

“I didn’t feel as though I was talking to a politician, to an elected official,” Brown said. “I literally felt like I was talking to someone who was not only just honest in their opinions and their experiences, but someone that understood where I was coming from in my situation in being a person of color in the city.”

Mauricio La Plante contributed to this report.

Contact Todd Perlman at [email protected]

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