San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    With the California primary election just five months away, a new survey sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group highlighted the stark differences between local candidates vying for a seat on the San Jose City Council.

    SVLG, a trade association comprised of the region’s leading businesses and tech companies, surveyed nearly 30 candidates running for local, county and statewide races in 2020. The questions ranged from funding for transportation to Google’s massive tech campus and public charter schools.

    The surveys, which contain the candidates’ original, unedited answers, asked 14 questions in total. San José Spotlight reviewed responses from a dozen San Jose City Council candidates, including four incumbents, to provide a closer look at four questions that reflect significant policy perspectives that divide the political hopefuls.

    Moving the mayoral term and limiting campaign contributions

    One of the biggest issues facing San Jose voters next year is a potential ballot measure that would prohibit campaign contributions in local elections from landlords, developers and other special interests, in addition to moving the mayoral election to presidential years to boost voter turnout.

    The labor-backed measure has split San Jose City Council candidates down ideological lines.

    When asked whether they favor “a ballot measure that will prohibit campaign contributions from advocates for development and tie the San Jose Mayoral term to the Presidential Election Cycle,” District 2 Councilmember Sergio Jimenez said he supports it and expects the measure to boost voter turnout, while his opponent Jonathan Fleming opposes it.

    In District 4, Councilmember Lan Diep responded that “there is no reason to support this.” Meanwhile, candidate David Cohen supports it, though he expressed concern that “regulating lobbyists” may impede on “free speech.” Candidate Huy Tran also supports it, saying that a stronger democracy requires greater voter participation.

    District 6 Councilmember Dev Davis opposes the measure, arguing that it would lead to a clash of local and national issues in conversations with voters. Meanwhile, candidate Andrew Boone supports changing the “outdated election rules” that “keep political elites and corporate interests in power.” Candidate Jake Tonkel also supports the measure, saying it would help “remove the influence of money in politics.”

    Councilmember Sylvia Arenas, who represents District 8, opposes the measure as it is written because she believes that prohibiting certain campaign contributions discourages participation in the democratic process. Her lone opponent Jim Zito had not yet entered the race when the surveys were conducted.

    In the open District 10 race, Jenny Higgins Bradanini signaled support, saying changing the mayoral election cycle increases voter engagement, but believes that limiting contributions to campaigns should not be under the same measure. On the other hand, candidate Matt Mahan opposes the measure in its entirety, saying there should be the “same rules for everyone who participates in elections” and investing in “voter engagement and education” should be prioritized instead.

    Candidate Helen Wang also opposes it, calling the measure “expensive” and “unnecessary.”

    High-speed rail and FASTER Bay Area

    A pair of questions on the survey focused on transportation and asked candidates about two different efforts: One is funding to complete a valley to valley connection through high-speed rail and the other related to a measure dedicated to creating an integrated transit system to better serve Bay Area residents.

    The measure, called FASTER Bay Area, promises to create an integrated transit system through a one cent sales tax. It is supported by SVLG.

    When asked whether the candidates “support funding to complete a valley to valley connection through high-speed rail,” Jimenez in District 2 said he supports “sustainable, long-term funding” of a high-speed rail given the amount of money already spent for its development. However, Fleming opposes such funding because “almost all California transit and transportation projects are extremely over budget” and this specific project does not warrant any difference in expense.

    Diep supports funding high-speed rail because he believes it will help pinpoint where San Jose is located on the map within Silicon Valley. Similarly, Cohen also supports the high-speed rail funding, as “it provides an alternative to gas-powered vehicles and provides an economic boost.” Tran, also a supporter, says high-speed rail would be an “environmentally friendly and safe mode of transportation.”

    All three District 6 candidates opposed funding the high-speed rail connection.

    Davis opposes it because she said there isn’t sufficient demand for a valley-to-valley connection, while Tonkel said California is “decades behind” on its development and Boone said the expensive project should not be a priority because it “will only serve California’s relatively wealthier residents.”

    Arenas in District 8 supports the high-speed rail connection for the sake of unity within different communities and for the residents that are “currently living in the Central Valley and driving endless commutes to support their families.”

    In District 10, Higgins Bradanini supports the project, saying it provides a solution to “cutting down on carbon emissions and the dangerous traffic congestion” within the Central Valley. Mahan also signaled support, adding that it will boost the state’s economy by linking “Central Valley’s residents with the jobs-rich and housing-poor Bay Area.” Wang opposed it, saying high-speed rail will be counter-productive and wasteful for the Bay Area.

    A new one-cent sales tax for transit

    Candidates were also asked whether they would “support a measure dedicated to build and operate a world class, seamless integrated transit system to better serve Bay Area residents, funded through a one cent sales tax, to better serve the transit dependent and those of us still in our cars.”

    Jimenez supports the potential tax measure for transportation “in theory” but explains that he doesn’t want San Jose to “continue to rely on sales tax increases” to fund such expensive projects. Fleming, on the other hand, opposes it and said “taxpayer dollars will be washed into a general fund” that leads to prioritizing different projects.

    Diep, in District 4, supports it and said San Jose “needs a sustainable funding mechanism,” while Tran opposed, saying he doesn’t want San Joseans to face another sales tax increase that makes it harder for people to survive in the costly region. Cohen said he supports FASTER Bay Area to “increase ridership, reduce travel time, reduce traffic congestion and minimize pollution.”

    Davis believes that an integrated transit system will help people “travel more quickly and with less stress across our region,” ultimately supporting the measure. However, her opponent Boone strongly opposed FASTER Bay Area, calling it “the most damaging and ill-conceived of any transportation tax ever proposed for the region.” Tonkel also does not support a “regressive tax… without understanding the allocation of funds to lower income communities and environmental improvements.”

    Arenas supports the regional measure as it provides more access to the Evergreen and East Side communities, while also “delivering better access to jobs, entertainment and regional travel.”

    Higgins Bradanini supports the proposed tax measure if it is “developed in a fair and equitable way.” While Mahan expressed concern about a sales tax increase on low-income residents, he supports an integrated transit system because it’s necessary “to support our quality of life and our regional economy.” Wang opposed the tax because she believes it’s unaffordable.

    Proposition 13

    When candidates were asked whether they “support or oppose a proposed amendment to Proposition 13,” Jimenez supports it because it’s “crucial to bring about equitable contributions to our state’s tax base” while Fleming opposed, saying businesses and jobs would leave California.

    Diep opposed, advocating for a more “comprehensive solution” that includes both commercial and residential properties. On the other hand, his opponents, Tran and Cohen expressed support for proposed amendments.

    In District 6, Davis opposed changes, saying the measure “completely eliminates the property tax increase cap for businesses,” yet her opponent Boone supports reforming Prop. 13 so that corporations no longer benefit “excessively from this tax loophole.” Tonkel also supported amendments, saying that Prop. 13 reforms are needed to “provide other relief opportunities to small businesses that may be struggling” in San Jose.

    Arenas opposes such changes, worrying about the effect on small businesses and the high costs of administering it.

    Higgins Bradanini believes that Prop 13. needs to be updated and supports the measure because it “has been a major loophole to skirt financial responsibilities,” which prevents the city from benefiting from different public services. Mahan, however, opposes amending Prop. 13 because it can “hurt economic competitiveness.” Wang also opposes the reforms, saying they might be used against small businesses.

    To read the full SVLG surveys from all Silicon Valley candidates, click here.

    Contact San José Spotlight intern Arianna Ramirez at [email protected] or follow @ariaram98 on Twitter.

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