San Jose council candidates debate key topics in District 10
San Jose City Council District 10 candidates Jenny Higgins Bradanini left, Matthew Mahan center, and Helen Wang speak at a candidate forum on Feb. 10. Photo by Nadia Lopez

With an eye toward securing a seat on the San Jose City Council, three District 10 contenders faced off in a panel Monday night, debating about the top issues facing the Almaden Valley community — housing, public safety and taxes.

The panel, hosted by the Almaden Valley Community Association at the WestGate Church, was moderated by Jane Frommer, a longtime member of the neighborhood group. In one of the most closely-watched races, the candidates, which include tech entrepreneur Matt Mahan, San Jose Women’s March founder Jenny Higgins Bradanini and Helen Wang, a nurse and businesswoman, were pressed on their vision for the city.

As the candidates each introduced themselves, Higgins Bradanini spoke about a December accident she was involved in that killed 66-year-old resident Tim Starkey. While Higgins Bradanini said she laments for the family, her “passion for public service hasn’t wavered.” Mahan discussed his career as a tech entrepreneur and expressed gratitude for his working-class roots, while Wang adamantly advocated for trying to help small businesses.

Homelessness

Mahan said homelessness must be framed differently and include a more comprehensive approach, such as mental health and substance abuse services.

“The starting place for me is not assuming that our homeless population is monolithic and that there’s just one reason people become homeless,” he said. “At one end of the spectrum is time for us to discuss bringing back, long-term secure mental health. On the other end of the spectrum is just the need to build more housing to keep pace with job growth.”

Wang agreed and said that most of the homeless people she’s encountered have a mental illness or substance abuse problem. She said the best solution is to have an ongoing, emergency center at a hospital or rehabilitation center to get people on the streets treated. Higgins Bradanini, however, said the city must act faster and use the county fairgrounds as a sanctioned homeless encampment.

Housing

On housing density and mixed-use development, a contentious subject among predominantly single-family home communities like District 10, the candidates agreed that more housing is needed, but disagreed on how to make that happen.

Higgins Bradanini said housing should be prioritized around transit hubs and workplaces rather than in suburban neighborhoods in order to “get people out of cars” and be more mindful about the environment.

“We need to watch out for Mother Earth when we think about putting all this high-density housing,” Higgins Bradanini said.

Wang said adding accessory dwelling units — or so-called “granny units” — would be a more viable solution for homeowners.

“Right now we have a shortage of housing,” she said. “I think District 10 is really not the district to build a lot of high-density housing, but ADUs may be the immediate solution to solve the shortage.”

Mahan said he is an advocate of building housing around transit, but building more densely can be done in parts of District 10. He said some areas such as the corridor along Blossom Hill Road can sustain higher density, but ADUs may be better in places like Almaden Valley

Public Safety

Frommer said criminals are becoming “increasingly brazen” when she asked how the candidates would address an increase in crime. Each candidate agreed the city needs to beef up its law enforcement and increase police funding.

Higgins Bradanini, a victim of car theft, said forming a burglary investigative unit is one of her top priorities, while Mahan added that the city has to resolve its “underlying budget” issues to address a need for more staffing and maintaining neighborhood watch as a tool to fight against crime. Wang said the city must reform its pension plan to make room for more staff.

Measure E

On the last major topic of the evening, an audience member asked the candidates about Measure E — a ballot initiative that would apply a transfer tax to sales of properties valued at $2 million or more for affordable housing.

Higgins Bradanini said the city “gave a pass” to big developers to not have to pay impact and in-lieu fees that would’ve gone toward affordable housing and Measure E would place the tax burden on residents.

“We can’t just rely on taxing our residents all the time,” she said.

Mahan said taxes and fees are too high for developers and discourage them from building, but added that he does not support the measure because it would pool into the city’s general fund, which means the City Council could use the money for a different purpose.

Wang agreed, adding that she could not support a new tax that wasn’t “guaranteed” for housing.

“It goes into the general fund. It’s not guaranteed for housing,” Wang said.

Mahan also said that San Jose alone should not be responsible for housing Silicon Valley’s tech workers and that cities such as Palo Alto and Cupertino must increase their efforts to open up development.

“We need to hold Palo Alto, Cupertino and Santa Clara accountable for building some housing,” Mahan said. “Every time they add 5,000 jobs and build no housing, it creates displacement and higher rents in San Jose.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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