A split photo of District 4 San Jose Councilmember David Cohen and challenger Kansen Chu
Councilmember David Cohen is running against Kansen Chu, a former councilmember, for the San Jose District 4 seat. File photo.

Out of several San Jose City Council races this election, one will be decided in the upcoming March 5 primary instead of in a November runoff.

That contest is between District 4 incumbent Councilmember David Cohen and Kansen Chu, a former state assemblymember, District 4 councilmember and Berryessa Union School District board member. Unlike the rest of the local races, there are only two candidates running, which means one of them will receive a majority of the votes and win.

San José Spotlight sent both candidates five questions to help voters make their decision. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Why are you best suited to represent District 4? 

Chu: My wife and I have lived in San Jose for 43 years. My daughter is raising her family here. We have strong connections to the community. As a recent immigrant, we lived through the struggles of more than 60% of the residents who are first generation immigrants. I can help them to assimilate in their new found land.

My experience in the school board, city and state government gives me the ability to effectively serve on the council. I have worked collaboratively with a diverse group of people to deliver results for the betterment of our communities.

Cohen: My track record and commitment during my first term uniquely position me to bring effective leadership to our community. I have built relationships with city staff and others that help me deliver results for the residents of District 4.

Many areas of District 4 that have been neglected by past councilmembers finally have a voice in City Hall. My first term has been dedicated to addressing this gap, and I am determined to continue this work for the betterment of our district.

I successfully established D4’s first dog park, implemented side show prevention measures, enhanced crosswalks, and introduced new sidewalks to prioritize pedestrian safety. The construction of long-promised parks has become a reality, contributing to the overall well-being of our community.

My office completed upgrades to Alviso Park and secured funding for Alviso Library, which have not had any improvements for decades. I worked with the residents near Orchard School to overturn a decision to build an overpass over 880, which would have bisected the school and neighborhood, making the community less safe. I worked to shut down an unlicensed senior care facility in the Brooktree neighborhood that was disruptive to the community.

I take pride in the planting of over 750 trees, a crucial step towards environmental sustainability. Additionally, my efforts played a pivotal role in saving the Berryessa Art Festival, preserving a cherished cultural event for our residents. These types of accomplishments are only possible with strong leadership and collaboration.

My team and I are focused on building out North San Jose, which is the jobs hub of the city and will be the main area for housing development. I am the leading voice for San Jose’s environmental leadership and am closely collaborating with the water district on expanding our water purification capacity. The completion of these projects will contribute significantly to the lasting improvement of our district. I am committed to being a steadfast advocate for District 4, fostering a community that thrives under effective leadership.

It is tremendously important that our district have stability. We have had three different councilmembers in the previous six years before I got elected. I have brought stability and a singular focus on improving our neighborhoods and solving our city’s greatest challenges. It is important to maintain continuity to make sure these initiatives are successful.

What are your priorities if elected?

Chu: Public safety, homelessness, and long-term economy vitality.

Cohen: My top priorities will continue to revolve around fostering a more inclusive and resilient community.

Addressing homelessness is a critical concern that demands a multifaceted approach. One thing is clear – inaction is not an option. We are in our current mess due to years of poor leadership. I am committed to implementing a comprehensive strategy, including the establishment of safe RV parking sites, emergency interim housing, shelters, and robust case management.

Additionally, I recognize the urgent need to increase our housing stock, with a particular focus on expanding affordable housing options. This approach aims to provide immediate relief for those experiencing homelessness while laying the foundation for long-term solutions to housing challenges.

Public safety is paramount for the well-being of our residents. To address this, I will prioritize supporting our police and fire departments. This involves focusing on recruitment and retention efforts to ensure our public safety personnel have the resources and support they need to keep our community safe. Strengthening collaboration between law enforcement and the community will be a key aspect of my approach, fostering a sense of trust and partnership that is crucial for effective public safety measures.

Furthermore, environmental responsibility is a cornerstone of my agenda. To safeguard our community for future generations, I will continue to push for San Jose to be a national leader in moving to carbon neutrality. I also am focused on reversing San Jose’s long term trend of reduction in tree canopy. I started an ambitious initiative to plant 1,000 trees in District 4 over three years, and we are ahead of schedule. I will focus on building and maintaining our parks and open space.

We are blessed in District 4 to have Alum Rock Park on one end and the Alviso shoreline on the other. We must be good stewards of both. By integrating environmental considerations into our policymaking, we can create a more sustainable and resilient community that thrives for years to come. My focus on these issues is why I am endorsed by the Housing Action Coalition, the Police Officers’ Association, San Jose Firefighters, League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club.

North San Jose is set to have a safe parking site and interim housing site soon. How will you balance the interests of residents living close by and the needs of homeless residents? 

Chu: I support homeless RV parking facilities. However, when selecting sites, we have to give some respect for those unhoused people and with the city budget shortfall in mind. The Berryessa site, next to California Waste Solutions, is a contaminated, zoned Heavy Industrial land.

I oppose to spend $16 million dollars for rent and many million dollars for the improvements on that property across the Coyote Creek from the proposed urban village. We need to learn from the past experience on the Tully Library site and be mindful that we can not fill the VTA site with half of its capacity.

A part of the County Fairgrounds would be a better location. That would leave more space for the county to provide much needed services such as mental health to those unsheltered. We should find a way to build a multi-level indoor flea market on the Berryessa Road site.

Cohen: The number one issue we face in San Jose is homelessness. Currently, homeless are living in encampments and RVs in our neighborhoods, along our creeks, and in front of businesses. The interests of all residents are better served by making sure that everyone has a safe place to live and are no longer disrupting our neighborhoods. That’s why I am committed to building interim housing and RV parking. We know that homeless residents want solutions that are close to where they currently reside. Nearly all of San Jose’s interim housing is in central or south San Jose. I’m committed to offering options for people who are homeless in the north part of the city.

The Cerone interim housing site will be open by the end of 2024 and offer placement for 200 people who are currently living on the street. The Berryessa RV parking site will allow us to remove 85 RVs out of our neighborhoods and will be operational this summer. For both sites, we will create community advisory committees so that residents and businesses who are nearby will have a voice in their operations.

Our communities will be safer and cleaner once these sites are open. I am committed to making sure that both sites have 24-hour on-site security and offer services to help residents transition to more stable long-term housing. We know these approaches work, as we saw homelessness drop by over 5% last year. We must scale these solutions to continue making progress.

What is your long-term vision for North San Jose? How do you plan to support both commercial and residential growth in the area?

Chu: I OPPOSE converting valuable office buildings in North San Jose into homeless housing. We need to preserve our commercial and office spaces for our future growth. San Jose can no longer afford to be a bedroom community for the Bay Area. District 4 borders two neighboring cities. We need to stop the bleeding of our tax revenues to other cities.

I SUPPORT the North San Jose Job Plan to bring more jobs closer to San Jose residents and more tax revenue for San Jose.

Currently, San Jose’s daytime population is 40% of our nighttime population. Many San Jose residents spend their valuable time on the road and creating air pollution.

I WILL ADVOCATE to convert underused government owned facilities for homeless housing.

Cohen: When I campaigned for city council in 2020, I laid out a vision for a vibrant community in North San Jose that continues to foster job growth, provide manufacturing opportunities, build more housing, offer amenities for residents, and create more parks and open space.

The first hurdle was the lawsuit that Santa Clara County filed against the city of San Jose, which had frozen housing development since 2014. Rather than wait for the lawsuit to be settled, I brought the city and county together to work out a deal to allow us to move forward.

The first 8,000 housing units that were built in North San Jose, almost entirely during the council tenure of my opponent, included zero affordable housing units. I encouraged the city council to require 20% of all housing units in North San Jose to be affordable when we updated the North San Jose plan just over a year ago.

I have cleared the way for the master planning to begin for a new Agnews Park. Once housing development resumes, we will accumulate resources to begin construction on one of the largest neighborhood parks in the city.

North San Jose must also continue to be a hub for technology jobs. My office has actively participated in over a dozen ribbon-cutting ceremonies, celebrating the establishment of various businesses. Companies including Nio, Lyten Technologies, PROCEPT Biorobotics, and Ascent Technologies have all moved their headquarters to North San Jose. Google and Apple have opened campuses there. And ASML built their U.S. headquarters in North San Jose. Microsoft and Stack Infrastructure are among the companies building large data centers in North San Jose, which will provide significant revenue gains for the city.

We aim to be strong partners in facilitating the success of businesses in our city. This collaborative approach is essential for creating a dynamic economic environment that benefits both entrepreneurs and residents alike.

In alignment with the booming tech landscape, I am closely collaborating with the mayor’s office to position San Jose as a hub for the burgeoning AI industry. This involves creating incentives and fostering relationships to attract and support AI companies looking to establish a presence in our city.

My vision for North San Jose involves a balanced and thriving community supported by both commercial and residential growth. By actively engaging with businesses, supporting the AI industry, and collaborating on housing developments, I aim to create a sustainable and prosperous future for our district. The diverse range of initiatives, including affordable housing and commercial spaces, will contribute to the overall well-being and economic vitality of North San Jose.

What is something you want voters to know about you?

Chu: I consider myself a public servant. I serve my constituents with a heart. I lead with common sense and I don’t go along to get along. I am committed to make San Jose a city where people can live, work, play, raise a family, and retire .

Cohen: As your city councilmember, I want voters to know that my commitment to breaking down silos within local government is unwavering. Throughout my tenure, I’ve actively fought to bring the council together, fostering a collaborative environment where fresh ideas can flourish. It’s essential that we move away from the paralysis of inaction caused by a lack of leadership and chronic indecision. I believe that decisive action is key to addressing our city’s most pressing issues, and I am confident that with another term, we can make substantial progress together.

With 14 years of experience on the school board and during my first term as your councilmember, I have consistently approached my role with thoughtfulness and independence. I am proud of the positive strides we’ve made, and in my second term, I aim to continue this momentum. The challenges our city faces require steadfast dedication, and I pledge to bring the same level of commitment to the issues that matter most to our community. Your vote on March 5th would be an honor and an endorsement of our shared vision for a stronger, more unified future for San José.

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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