Eight South Bay candidates competing in state and local races tackled questions on economic recovery, climate change, racial justice, housing and transportation in a two-and-a-half hour discussion hosted by San José Spotlight.
The Sept.16 forum was held virtually and moderated by City Hall reporter Carly Wipf and Michael Lane, San Jose director for SPUR. The forum featured races for state Senate District 15, Santa Clara County Supervisor District 3 and San Jose City Council Districts 4 and 6.
A forum with candidates for Santa Clara City Council races as well as for Assembly District 25 takes place Sept. 23. Click here to register.
San Jose City Council District 6
The debate for San Jose’s District 6 seat, between incumbent Councilmember Dev Davis and challenger Jake Tonkel, kicked off the forum with a fiery start as the pair butted heads on topics such as police reform, homelessness and opportunity housing.
Davis defended San Jose’s “urban village” model in the city’s general plan and argued it needs more time so planned developments can be built and that the city can maintain single-family neighborhoods.
“We need to focus on our urban villages and building the housing that’s dedicated to these areas,” Davis said. Otherwise, focusing on opportunity housing and other rapid rehousing projects would be too much for city’s planning department.
Tonkel argued the rhetoric of the danger of eliminating single-family neighborhoods with higher-density housing is “extremely untrue” and the urban villages Davis supported are not rising fast enough to help the city’s homelessness problem.
Davis said she does not support defunding the police when asked about reimagining public safety and holding the police department accountable for excessive use of force.
“There’s not much more to cut,” Davis said, arguing San Jose needs more police officers on patrol and people want to see more police presence, not less. She also supports strengthening the power of an independent police auditor.
Tonkel argued for redirecting funds from the police department to mental health services and other services in the community.
San Jose City Council District 4
Berryessa Union School District trustee David Cohen, who is challenging Councilmember Lan Diep, said his priority is helping the city recover from the economic devastation of the pandemic. He would accomplish this, he said, by getting businesses back open and residents on their feet.
Diep declined to participate in the forum, drawing criticism from Cohen who said it illustrates the councilmember’s divisiveness.
When asked how he could support low-income tenants in San Jose, Cohen said there needs to be cooperation with state and county government to bring landlords and tenants together to provide relief for renters. But Cohen said this needs to happen while also working with landlords to provide debt relief.
When asked about the recently passed commercial linkage fee in San Jose, Cohen said he supports it but said the fees charged to commercial developers could have been higher so it “is comparable to the cities around us.”
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors District 3
As Supervisor Dave Cortese terms out of his seat on the Board of Supervisors, Assemblymember Kansen Chu and former Sunnyvale Mayor Otto Lee are competing to replace him.
Chu drew focus to income inequality in the county and argued it causes most of the problems discussed during the forum. He expressed support for the statewide eviction moratorium and increasing transparency in the police department by making misconduct records available to hiring departments in other cities and counties across the state.
When asked how to balance public health concerns with economic pressures, Lee said the way the county has handled it has been damaging to businesses, such as salons, that have received confusing guidance on how to reopen.
“The county needs to make sure we have a well planned way (to reopen) so people can know what to expect,” Lee said
Lee mostly agreed with Chu on social issues but voiced opposition for a sales tax to maintain housing and human services and to help the county recover from the economic shutdown. Lee called it a regressive tax that most affects working families and hurts small businesses.
Instead, Lee said, the county should force tech companies to pay their fair share to help support disadvantaged residents during the pandemic.
Chu said the county should look everywhere to try and raise revenue.
“This is a very challenging time to increase taxes, however, this is a very challenging time for the government to provide the services they are set up to do,” Chu said.
California Senate District 15
Former FEC chair Ann Ravel and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese quickly launched into a heated debate as they fought to prove why voters should send them to Sacramento.
Senate District 15 spans most of Santa Clara County, including San Jose, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga, and is home to more than 900,000 residents. The seat currently is held by outgoing Sen. Jim Beall.
The candidates were asked about homelessness and the best solutions for it at the state level.
Cortese has supported creating transitional and temporary shelter to house people, while permanent housing is being built. He reinforced that support and suggested the creation of a statewide housing finance agency.
Ravel countered and said she believed permanent housing was the best solution so people “feel a sense of belonging in the community.”
Ravel’s top priorities are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and making sure health care is affordable to everyone. She also voiced support for rent vouchers so Silicon Valley tenants “don’t end up out on the streets.”
Cortese stated his top issues would be helping the state recover from the pandemic, along with addressing homelessness and the climate change crisis.
When asked how she might improve distance learning for students, Ravel said school districts initially were not “thoughtful” about how to implement online learning.
“We need to spend a lot of time making sure teachers can teach students remotely,” Ravel said, adding that more time, training and resources are needed.
She also supported the expansion of broadband across the state for students and telecommuters alike.
Cortese said that to improve distance learning, more money is needed.
“I will be supporting measures at the state level to shift capital resources around,” Cortese said. “This is not a luxury. These kids can’t learn without devices and without WiFi.”
If you missed our second candidate forum covering Santa Clara Cuty Council and state Assembly races, catch up here.