Within a span of 22 years, Teresa O’Neill has served on Santa Clara’s City Council, planning commission and school board. And she doesn’t intend to end her career in public service anytime soon.
“I feel like I have accomplished a number of things, but there’s still miles to go before I sleep,” O’Neill said.
The District 4 councilmember is running for reelection against engineer Kevin Park.
As city leaders grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and remain embattled with the San Francisco 49ers over debts and stadium management, O’Neill said she wants to remain on the dais to resolve a laundry list of issues.
One of her most important priorities? Avoiding financial turmoil as the economy plunges into a recession because of COVID-19.
“The fiscal practices have been improved. We’ve brought in some new managers that have updated a lot of the day-to-day operational practices in Santa Clara,” O’Neill said. “I made a lot of improvements there that I think have helped us be ready to deal with a crisis such as COVID.”
O’Neill identifies as a social liberal and fiscal conservative. In fact, she said one of the reasons she ran for City Council was to improve Santa Clara’s financial practices after the 2008 recession.
“I saw how low the City Council was allowing the reserves to get during the last great recession and had tried to tell some city managers, some of the senior staff and members of the council what the depth of the recession was going to be,” O’Neill said. “I think that they were late to the game in understanding the depths of the recession, and that they needed to really slow down on the spending.”
She said her work with other councilmembers helped the city be financially prepared for COVID-19, despite facing a $34 million budget shortfall.
“So because of my concerns about the fiscal condition, we really looked at improving the budgeting process,” O’Neill said. “When COVID hit, in just our general fund reserve, our budget stabilization, we had $80 million. And in total reserves that we can readily access, we had over $150 million.”
State Assemblymember Kansen Chu endorsed O’Neill and praised her budgeting skills and experience.
“We need somebody who has the experience to lead the city out of this recession,” Chu told San José Spotlight.
O’Neill also has the endorsement and confidence of the South Bay Labor Council to provide jobs for working-class families.
“The South Bay Labor Council supports candidates who support working families,” said Jean Cohen, the council’s interim executive officer. “Councilmember O’Neill received our endorsement because of her values and ongoing efforts to create good jobs in the city of Santa Clara.”
O’Neill has advocated to continue conserving funds, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders lasted far longer than she expected.
“I fear that the results will last a lot longer,” she said. “Aside from the devastating health impacts, it has pointed out to me how vulnerable our society is, how delicately balanced keeping everything going has been, and it particularly pointed out the inequities that people are living with every day.”
While conserving for the future is fundamental to O’Neill’s decision making, she recognizes the city still needs to provide urgent relief to residents and business-owners.
And City Manager Deanna Santana has been essential leading the city’s response to COVID-19, O’Neill said.
“I’ll give credit to Deanna. She’s made a lot of stuff happen very quickly,” O’Neill said.
However, Santana earned $709,445 in total compensation last year, making her one of the highest-paid city managers in the state. The city’s approval of an 11% raise for Santana — which O’Neill voted for — drew the ire of Councilmember Raj Chahal and several council candidates vying for seats at the table.
O’Neill said she believes Santana has earned the amount of money she’s receiving.
The home of the San Francisco 49ers has become a political crossfire for Santa Clara and the football franchise.
City and team leaders remain in a legal stalemate over debts and stadium management, and O’Neill said conversations with the 49ers have been “acrimonious.”
But O’Neill said the franchise has not been transparent about its operations with the city.
“They have not lived up to their obligation even to do things like produce timely marketing plans,” O’Neill said. “We had to push for several years before we even got like a capital budget.”
City leaders have accused the 49ers of wage theft and failing to disclose their financial records.
If re-elected, O’Neill said she would want to find a third-party company to manage day-to-day operations at the stadium to resolve the feud.
“The best solution is for both of us, the city and the stadium authority and the 49ers to back out of more of the day-to-day operation of the stadium and to do … a national search and bring in a very experienced company that manages stadiums and arenas,” O’Neill said.
After resolving stadium management issues, O’Neill said they can partner on community events.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 19, O’Neill raised $7,363 for her campaign and spent $2,284, according to campaign finance reports.
IN HER OWN WORDS
AT A GLANCE
Name: Teresa O’Neill
Family: Brothers, cousins, nephews, my parish, extended network of neighborhood, school, Hewlett-Packard Company and nonprofit work friends
Political Affiliation: Democratic
Education: Stanford University, A.B. Communication
Profession: Retired from Hewlett-Packard Company, final role as contract negotiator/manager of technology, alliance and supply chain agreements
Top 3 priorities: Ensure Santa Clara residents receive safety-net services during COVID-19 and the recession; ensure delivery of essential services to residents — public safety, electric power, water, sewer, streets, parks; implement creative solutions to quality-of-life issues
Top 3 endorsements: Senator Bob Wieckowski, Santa Clara County Democratic Party, South Bay Labor Council
Special Talent: Game shows. I won a car on a quiz program when I was in college and later was a winner on Jeopardy two separate times.
Why vote for me: I listen to Santa Clara residents and then work my heart out to get positive results. I know how to get the right things done for Santa Clarans.
Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.