As the first-born son of Vietnamese American refugees, Lan Diep prides himself on taking advantage of the opportunity given to him by his parents.
“Lan was raised with a profound sense of gratitude for his life in America. His parents reminded him … they were much more fortunate than countless other refugees whose ships never made it to safety,” according to Diep’s campaign website.
Having branded himself with the American dream, Diep by all accounts is determined to pay it forward by serving on the San Jose City Council. Seeking re-election for District 4, Diep is being challenged by David Cohen.
After winning by 12 votes in 2016, the Captain America shield became a staple of his work. Post COVID-19, Diep often has set the iconic image as his backdrop during Zoom meetings. In 2016, Diep brandished a literal shield at City Hall when sworn into office.
With a countywide housing crisis, COVID-19 and a mounting trash problem, the American dream may seem far off for San Jose residents.
Backers, including Eddie Troung, director of government and community relations for the Silicon Valley Organization, say Diep is the leader the city needs.
“We support Councilmember Lan Diep because he has shown real leadership during a time of crisis, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Truong said. “He has consistently voted to support small businesses suffering the most during this COVID shelter in place.”
Diep declined to be interviewed for this story or to participate in San José Spotlight’s recent candidate forum.
According to his website, Diep’s top priorities for his next term include housing, economic development, education, transportation and the environment.
Recently, Diep voted in favor of the divisive commercial linkage fee, which obligates commercial developers to pay the city additional money to support affordable housing projects. Opponents said the fee should’ve been higher.
He also helped pass an inclusionary housing ordinance which requires housing developers to either make 15 percent of their homes affordable or pay extra fees to contribute to low-income projects.
Tim Beaubien, government affairs director of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, said Diep has been the right choice for District 4 and San Jose as a whole for championing housing policies meant to protect the city’s most vulnerable, while also supporting increased development at all levels during the housing crisis.
“We are very pleased with his policies on accessory dwelling units,” Beaubien said. “Accessory dwelling units are a great way to densify neighborhoods and provide a much-needed housing stock for young professionals and aging residents.”
Diep also supports building tiny homes and more affordable housing around Diridon Station and in North San Jose where Google is expected to move.
“We need to understand that San Jose is the most expensive place to construct housing in the nation — even market rate developments get stalled because of the high costs here,” Diep said on his website. “We can’t control the costs of land or materials but we can look at what local government can do to reduce the burden on construction of desperately needed housing.”
Due to shelter in place mandates and poor air quality, dumpster days were canceled in March and August. But in this past month, despite COVID-19 and unhealthy air, Diep said he and residents cleaned up trash left by housebound residents who were “Marie Kondo-ing” and adding to the citywide trash buildup.
On a global level, Diep supports combating climate change and advocated for energy plans such as San Jose Climate Smart to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Government accountability and spending
In light of a tightening city budget during the pandemic, Diep spearheaded a series of government accountability measures to ensure local funds are used wisely.
“He’s been with me and a lot of folks that are making our city more fiscally responsible,” said Councilmember Johnny Khamis. “So I appreciate him being an ally.”
For his spending decisions and policies, business organizations including the California Apartment Association, the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, the Business San Jose Chamber PAC, the SVO PAC and Carl Guardino, former CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, endorse Diep.
Khamis, Councilmembers Dev Davis, Pam Foley and Mayor Sam Liccardo and Vice Mayor Chappie Jones also support Diep for re-election.
“I love the fact that he’s analytical. He’s sometimes very independent and he cares about the fiscal health of the city, so he’s fiscally conservative,” Khamis said.
Diep’s challenger, Cohen, has the support of Diep’s other peers, including Councilmember Raul Peralez, Maya Esparza and Sergio Jimenez.
If Diep is re-elected, the council may continue to see 6-5 votes favoring the mayor and his allies. One notable example of a split vote occurred during this summer’s strong mayor plan, which Diep voted to support.
“(Diep) is actually voting to protect residents from being evicted from their homes. He’s actually voting for emergency food distribution and to provide relief for small businesses,” Truong said. “David Cohen can talk about what he wants to do, but Councilmember Diep is already doing it.”
According to campaign finance reports, Diep has raised $142,926 and spent $148,471 this year until Sept. 19.
AT A GLANCE
Name: Lan Diep
Political affiliation: Democrat
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and history from the University of California, San Diego; University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law, Doctor of Law
Profession: San Jose District 4 Councilmember, legal aid attorney
Current or previous elected or appointed positions: San Jose City Council District 4; Vietnamese language consultant; fellow at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center; field organizer at Organizing for America in Nevada for former President Barack Obama; AmeriCorps legal fellow at the Mississippi Center for Justice
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.