The Silicon Valley Democratic Club is not endorsing a candidate in the race for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor’s District 1 seat — at least for the time being.
The club held a vote for its members following a forum where the three candidates—Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine, Los Gatos Vice Mayor Rob Rennie and Santa Clara County Office of Education President Claudia Rossi—fielded questions from a moderator and the audience about affordable housing, lack of public transit and how to improve quality of life in the region.
Rennie and Rossi received split votes during the second round of voting. In a conversation that never veered from being cheerful and collegial, the candidates outlined positions that were broadly aligned with each other, although each emphasized specific issues they’re passionate about.
The District 1 seat, which represents a swath of South County, is held by Supervisor Mike Wasserman, whose term ends in 2022. Another candidate in the race, former San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, was not invited to the forum because he’s not a Democrat.
Rossi, a registered nurse, cited her record expanding access to education resources in South County, including the creation of an outdoor classroom in Morgan Hill and the use of an annex for a Head Start community school and migrant education programs.
“By investing in professional development and expanding childcare options, we will go a long way to addressing the income gap that affects communities of color,” Rossi said, adding that she’s led efforts in the county to attract more children from migrant communities into the health care and teaching professions.
Rennie referred to himself as a nerdy engineer with a passion for solving problems. A longtime member of the Sierra Club, Rennie helped create the Silicon Valley Clean Energy Authority, which he said has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region. He’s helped teach STEM labs in middle schools, and he expressed interest in collaborating with the tech industry to provide local youth with more work opportunities.
“I’m a regionalist,” Rennie said. “I always make decisions based on what’s best for the greater good.”
Constantine, a retired firefighter, did not qualify for the second round of voting. He has served on the Morgan Hill City Council since 2010. He said he’d take a collaborative approach to focus on solving homelessness and affordable housing, but also suggested investing in what the county is already doing well.
“Where the county excels is health care and issues of mental health, and fighting domestic violence,” Constantine said.
There is significant overlap in the candidates’ positions, but they diverged on specifics.
Asked about SB 9 and SB 10, which open single-family neighborhoods to denser housing, Rossi said she supported exploring every option, from Opportunity Housing to shipping containers. Constantine and Rennie were more reserved, expressing concerns about how the state bills will affect housing development and green spaces in unincorporated parts of the county.
“I would focus the growth first of all in the urban village kind of areas the county has been planning for, rather than trying to spread them all throughout neighborhoods,” Rennie said.
The candidates were also asked about how they would address public transportation, a chronic problem in the South County area.
Constantine, who sits on the board of the VTA, conceded the area is a “transportation desert.” He cited the recent ribbon-cutting for the 568 rapid bus as a boon for commuters but suggested most people won’t consider public transit options until they become easier.
“To get people out of their cars, we need to make mass transit more reliable and convenient,” Constantine said.
Rennie, a former VTA board member, added that he wants to invest in bike infrastructure and double the tracking and electrification of Caltrain to Gilroy.
The candidates all supported the continued preservation of Coyote Valley, noting its importance as a green space for the surrounding area. Rossi, who teaches hypertension management classes, said investing in green spaces is an investment in health, and she would like to expand access to them for the greater community.
The seat typically leans toward conservative candidates. Wasserman is a Republican and so was his predecessor, Don Gage.