Fourteen candidates vying for a seat on the San Jose City Council fielded rapid-fire questions about homelessness, public safety, environmental issues, taxes and development in a two-hour discussion hosted by San José Spotlight.
The Dec. 5 forum, held at CreaTV San Jose’s downtown studios and moderated by San Jose City Hall reporter Nadia Lopez, was the second of two nights of candidate forums covering races for San Jose City Council districts 2, 4, 6 and 10. The shows, which included a live audience, will air on Cable Channel 30 and a link is posted below.
San Jose City Council District 6
The panels began with San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis and four others vying to unseat her: Biomedical worker Jake Tonkel, student Marshall Woodmansee, transit activist Andrew Boone and tech worker Ruben Navarro.
After the taping of the forum, Boone failed to qualify for the ballot, though his answers are still included.
When it comes to creating new solutions to combat San Jose’s intractable homeless problem, Davis said the crisis stems from a decades-long lack of housing production compounded by mental illness and drug addiction. She said the city is focusing heavily on homeless prevention.
Tonkel called for bolstering tenant protections while Woodmansee, who’s the youngest candidate in the 2020 local elections, thinks the city should rethink what affordable housing looks like, scaling down from high-rises to low-rises and co-living units.
Boone suggested providing free housing to homeless residents and demanded funding from corporations and wealthy individuals. Navarro, who has experienced homelessness, said San Jose should limit production of luxury units, which he said increases demand for affordable units.
On the topic of crime and a lack of law enforcement resources, Davis said the city has added 100 new police officers, in addition to creating a car break-in prevention program.
Boone believes alleviating poverty should be a priority and would help reduce crime. Navarro said the key to reducing crime is hiring new recruits to fill vacant police officer positions and speeding up slow response times.
Tonkel said the city must address inequality and push community-based policing models, which foster relationships between officers and neighborhoods. Woodmansee’s plan would include a long-term approach of caring for young people as the number of teen centers decreases.
To watch the District 6 forum, go to the start of the video.
San Jose City Council District 2
The most contentious forum of the night featured San Jose Councilmember Sergio Jimenez and his challenger, mechanical engineer Jonathan Fleming.
Jimenez said he’s lived in the community for 20 years and his opponent moved into the district just 20 weeks ago, after recently losing a bid for a San Jose City Council seat in District 7.
On the topic of crime, Jimenez cautioned against buying into the fear-inducing narrative of NextDoor that the city’s burning down and riddled with crime. He said San Jose has rebuilt its police force and new recruits in the police academy continues to grow.
Fleming took the opposite approach. He said the fears over growing crime are legitimate, blaming Propositions 47 and 57 for the release of 6,000 felons into Santa Clara County. Jimenez denied any correlation between those laws and increased crime.
On the topic of a March 2020 tax measure to fund affordable housing, Fleming said residents are already overtaxed and it’s “decimating” the middle class by forcing people to flee the area.
Jimenez voted against the tax measure, saying tax fatigue exists, but added that corporate partners need to step up and be part of the solution.
When asked about a series of 6-5 split votes and the current division on the San Jose City Council, Jimenez said it starts at the top with Mayor Sam Liccardo. He thinks if Liccardo was more willing to compromise on issues, the artificial walls between councilmembers could be broken down.
Highlighting the growing tension between the two men, Fleming shot back that Jimenez is adding to the city’s division by saying Liccardo is racially dividing the city, a charge the councilman adamantly denied.
To watch the District 2 forum, go to 26:45 in the video.
San Jose City Council District 4
The next panel featured Berryessa School Board Trustee David Cohen, San Jose housing commissioner Huy Tran and tech worker Jamal Khan, who are challenging San Jose Councilmember Lan Diep.
Diep did not attend the forum because of a conflicting meeting.
The candidates were asked whether they would vote to continue a tax break incentive program for high-rise developers to spur development, something Diep supported.
Cohen does not support those subsidies, and believes the city can spur more housing production by cutting red tape, fees and costs. Khan advocated for taking a stronger bargaining position with developers.
Tran “absolutely opposes” the continuation of these waivers, saying the $67 million in tax breaks could benefit affordable housing and parks.
When it comes to considering updates to San Jose’s 2040 general plan, Khan said there needs to be movement away from the single-family housing that dominates most of San Jose’s residential land. Cohen said North San Jose is being developed without enough services, such as community centers and shopping outlets, forcing people to drive elsewhere. He called for more mixed-use development.
Tran said maintaining and developing urban villages, especially around BART and light rail stations, is vital.
To watch the District 4 forum, go to 54:33 in the video.
San Jose City Council District 10
The final discussion of the night featured tech leader Matt Mahan, Women’s March Bay Area co-founder Jenny Higgins Bradanini, nurse and businesswoman Helen Wang and and financial advisor Vinh Do, who are hoping to replace termed-out Councilmember Johnny Khamis.
After the taping of the forum, Do failed to qualify for the ballot, though his answers are still included.
Khamis has been vocal supporter of Laura’s Law, which would compel certain mentally ill individuals into treatment programs through conservatorship. Asked about the law, Mahan said it can be a useful tool for people in extreme situations, but he thinks more facilities and resources should be available for those experiencing less extreme mental health crises.
Do and Wang both support Laura’s Law, while Wang said it’s a better use of resources because it can lead to more options for length of hospital stays and outpatient treatments.
Higgins Bradanini doesn’t think it’s a catch-all solution for homeless residents who are mentally ill, as Khamis is presenting it, but thinks it would help a small population of individuals who have been on a psychiatric hold, committed a crime or pose a danger to themselves.
On the topic of charging businesses a commercial linkage fee for affordable housing, Mahan said he wants more details. He worries about making it more expensive to run a business in Silicon Valley and facing unintended consequences, such as pushing jobs out of town.
Higgins Bradanini supports the fee on businesses and said San Jose is missing an opportunity to collect millions of dollars for affordable housing each month that the city fails to enact the fee.
As a businesswoman, Wang said she’d have to study the specifics and called for considerations to avoid potential negative effects on small businesses. Do said he does not support any taxes that make it harder to do business in San Jose.
To watch the District 10 forum, go to 1:31:31 in the video.