Portillo: San Jose has a chance to truly promote diversity 

As the daughter of two Mexican immigrants who has lived on the East Side of San Jose my entire life, I grew up with great pride and love for my home. Surrounded by neighbors, classmates and local businesses rich in culture, I’ve always felt privileged to have been raised in such a vibrant and welcoming community. But despite this rich identity and connection to my neighborhood, places of power always felt off-limits to me. I never found much in common with those sitting at decision making tables.

Just a few days ago, the city of San Jose announced three finalists for the vacant position on the Planning Commission that will be representing District 5 constituents and joining the Commission in making critical decisions about the future of our community.

The appointment is slated to be voted on Sept. 17, about ten days — that’s right, ten days — after the announcement was made, not allowing for a proper community vetting process or authentic community engagement. The previous appointment was made to Pierluigi Oliverio, keeping the status quo composition of a Commission that has historically elected (white) men from wealthier parts of San Jose to act as decision-makers for the entire city. As women and people of color have been winning elections across the country, I am glad to see more diversity in candidates and hope that they bring expertise on land use, equity and inclusion and have a deep connection with the East San Jose community.

As East San Jose battles rapid gentrification and advanced displacement, the role of the Commission is more important than ever. It is responsible for reviewing all development proposals and policy changes, and it is absurd that not a single representative comes from the East Side, where 100,000+ of us live, and where there are already 14+ development projects being proposed in our neighborhoods.

As a community, we deserve the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates and learn about their qualifications to represent us. We have questions about their ability to lead and stand up to special interests that do not keep our specific needs in mind. We want to know:

  1. What are specific policies that they will champion while serving on the Commission?
  2. How will they ensure that community has a voice and has input into the decisions that the Commission will make?
  3. How will they support the leadership and professional development of new leaders to prepare them to step onto the Commission?

Growing up, I trusted that those elected and appointed truly represented my community and my family. But as the years have passed, I have seen some districts grow wealthier, gaining greater visibility and more political power, while here in District 5 we have often been left behind.

Every district in San Jose deserves to see itself represented. Even the ones made up of brown and black families. Especially those ones. We are the backbones of this community, and we deserve to have champions who know the concerns we face, and who work to bring equity to our city.

We ask that the candidates respond to our questions in writing to share with the public or that we be provided with a public forum where community can ask them questions directly and lend their support to the most prepared and connected candidate.

We all deserve space at the table. Our city depends on it.

Andrea Portillo is a San Jose native and recently graduated with her master’s degree from USF. She now does community organizing work in East San Jose with SOMOS Mayfair.

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